The might of Atlético’s bench thumbnail

The might of Atlético’s bench

Atlético’s game in Milan on Tuesday left several obvious signs. The team, as happened last season with Chelsea in the knockout stages of the Champions League, is not prepared to sustain such a high pace of play as that imposed by Stefano Pioli’s team. Nor do the rojiblancos have mechanisms with the ball to get out of such an asphyxiating pressure. “We need to get up to speed,” Diego Pablo Simeone admitted bluntly in the San Siro press room. While Milan played with eleven, Atlético did not exist.

The expulsion of the imposing midfielder Kessi after half an hour of play and the need to score so as not to overcomplicate the classification uncovered other evidence, the power of the rojiblanco bench. Simeone was introducing talent from the reserve until completing five changes valued at around 300 million euros. João Félix (125), Lemar (75), Griezmann (between 40 and 50 in the case of being repurchased). DePaul (30) and Lodi (18). Few teams in Europe can exhibit that ability to introduce so many lopsided players.

Three of the five victories that Atlético has so far this year have required a goal against him and Simeone to assert his glossy wardrobe background. Espanyol, Getafe and Milan ended up defeated by the push provided by the rojiblancos footballers off the bench in the second half. This is what the coach said: “We tried everything we had to see if we could find a draw and then victory because we knew it was very important as the group is.”

The necessity made the five changes introduced by the Argentine coach at San Siro all offensive. Rarely has Simeone forgotten so much about defensive balance to go for a game. Atlético finished in the Milanese coliseum with Lemar and De Paul as midfielders, with Lodi as more extreme than winger and with Griezmann, João Félix, Correa and Luis Suárez as attackers. “We put them all together, as they have ever asked me, but it is not easy,” justified Simeone.

At San Siro, for the first time, Griezmann and João Félix met on the pitch, a combination that Simeone had not given the go-ahead until now. This is one of the great dilemmas that the technician has to solve. It screamed that until Tuesday he had not mixed the supposed two best players on the squad. That in Milan neither of them was part of the starting eleven in a match of such transcendence was at least strange. This is how Simeone himself slipped it: “We have a very good squad, we still haven’t achieved regularity in the game, we have tried in many ways, with minutes for everyone, but we have to find what makes us the best as a team.”

Simeone is immersed in a search that seems crucial to define the main lines of the season in terms of the making of the eleven. Never had the club put so much offensive talent at their disposal to manage. Each season, the level of the bench has been raising the level of quality in line with the economic growth that the successes of the Simeone era have provided the entity.

In his first years on the Atlético bench, Cholo did not manage more than 13 or 14 players with the starter tag. For some time now, the payroll of usable start-up footballers has risen substantially. The peak of the differential player leave has been reached this season. First it was with the arrival of De Paul and Cunha and then with Griezmann’s last minute play-off. If the first two were mere tweaks for the squad that was proclaimed League champion, with the arrival of the French striker, Simeone has found it necessary to build a new team in which the new pieces fit.

Aware that he does not fit all of them in the eleven, from the first moment Cholo has insisted on the need for all the roosters he has to take on specific substitutions. However, since the defeat in Vitoria he has opened the first casting to define his first stable eleven of the season as much as possible.

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