After thriving in the European competition for the last four seasons, Diego Simeone‘s team is suddenly facing elimination in the group stage.
The scoreless draw at newcomer Qarabag on Wednesday left Atletico with only two points after three matches in Group C, and needing to win their three remaining games to advance without depending on other results.
They trail Roma by three points and leader Chelsea by five points. They host Qarabag and Roma in the next two rounds, then closes group play at Chelsea in December. Another setback in any of these matches will mean Atletico will depend on other results to earn one of the two qualifying spots in the group.
“I have faith in this group of players,” Simeone said. “I’m staying optimistic and I think that we can overcome this situation.”
Atletico made it to the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016, and were a semifinalist last season and a quarterfinalist in 2015. They cruised through the group stage every time, always advancing as the group winner.
They earned 16 points in 2013-14 in a group that included Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Porto. The following year, they got 13 points to win a group which also had eventual runner-up Juventus and Olympiakos.
Atletico also won 13 points in 2015-16, finishing ahead of Benfica and Galatasaray. Last season, they ended with 15 points, ahead of Bayern Munich.
Atletico can reach only 11 points this season.
“We know it’s difficult,” midfielder Saul Niguez said. “But we are capable of getting it done. We need to win the last three games. There is no other option.”
Atletico started with a positive draw against Roma in Italy, where they played well and had chances to win. Then they struggled against Chelsea at home, where they were outplayed. They scored first but weren’t able to hold on to the lead and conceded a last-minute winner.
Atletico had difficulties imposing their game against Qarabag, the Azerbaijan team which is making its Champions League debut. They had most of the significant scoring chances in Baku but weren’t able to find the net despite playing more than 15 minutes with an extra man.
Simeone and his players have blamed poor finishing for the bad results recently.
“We need to be calm in front of the goal, and we haven’t been,” Niguez said. “It’s been difficult for us to score.”
Atletico have 14 in 11 matches, their biggest victory 5-1 at Las Palmas in their second match.
“We have to work harder in the attack so we can start scoring more,” forward Antoine Griezmann said.
Atletico haven’t won in four consecutive matches in all competitions. They were coming off two consecutive draws in the Spanish league, at Leganes and against Barcelona.
Atletico’s next game is at Celta Vigo on Sunday. They are fourth in the league standings, six points behind leader Barcelona.
Source : timesofindia