The two faces of the champion

In November 2016, on the return flight from a Champions League match in Rostov, a passenger expressed his satisfaction to Diego Pablo Simeone for the game the team was playing. The Argentine coach, retired in his seat, smiled, turned and also with a certain irony and the broadest smile, finished: “But don’t get used to it.” On Saturday, Cholo crowned Atlético as the league champion for the second time in seven years with a more daring formula, expressed in the highest average possession (51%) in his nine and a half years as Atletico coach. “The team came out demonized to seek the title,” he said to reaffirm the turn undertaken and drawn from the first day of the championship with the figure of Luis Suárez as a wishbone.

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On September 27, 2020, at four o’clock in the afternoon, under the heatwave, Atlético was deployed in full swing on the first day of the League. He beat Granada (6-1). The desire of Luis Suárez, in the half hour he played, to show with two goals and an assist that was still biting in the area unleashed the first stream of optimism that had been engendered with the announcement of the hiring of the Uruguayan striker. “I did not discover anything saying that we entered the Suárez area. He is different, he is a winner, an animal, the club received him, he adapted to what he is, because he has a lot of who we are ”, reasons Simeone.

When Real Madrid and Barcelona tightened the classification, Cholo looked for the forward. “It’s your moment, you have experience, you know what this is about, you have to infect the rest,” the coach asked his scorer. “From the first training session it was appreciated what he could give us, he was hurt by how he left Barcelona. He talked to everyone, he transmitted ”, they report at Atlético.

At the beginning of November, the coach already confessed, after defeating Osasuna in El Sadar (0-2), the impact that the arrival of Súarez had generated. It was the first league game in which he proposed the defense of three center-backs, with Vitolo as a left-handed winger due to the muscle injury that delayed Carrasco’s explosion: “I think all of this is generated from the presence of Suárez. There is a need to supply it. Costa and Morata had other characteristics, more than going into space and with the long field. We were looking for other situations. Luis needs more people close to him, to live where it hurts, and the team works in search of the most complicated path, which is the goal ”, explained the rojiblanco coach. At that time, João Félix was still fueling, Marcos Llorente’s whirlwind had been unleashed and footballers such as Savic, Koke, Correa and Trippier announced that their performance could surpass that of previous seasons. The revolution was such that for the first time Simeone parked his non-negotiable 4-4-2, pushed by the defeat received in Munich (4-0), despite the fact that the attacking team played Bayern face to face during some stretches of the match.

The word favorite was already hanging from Atlético by the time he appeared in Valdebebas in mid-December with the possibility of delving into Madrid’s first downturn, leaving him with nine points and one game less. In between, he had already defeated Koeman’s Barcelona in the Metropolitan (1-0), when he was going through, except for this final stretch of the championship, his worst moment of the course. Atlético, however, fell 2-0. More than defeat, Simeone and his players had the superiority with which they were defeated. After that setback, Atlético continued to win games, some with difficulties such as Elche (3-1), Getafe (1-0), Eibar (1-2) and Alavés (1-2). Other triumphs like that of Anoeta (0-2) were more solid. A dribble of goals against also began that alarmed Oblak. The goalkeeper pointed out structural rather than individual failures as a symptom. However, boosted by the scoring ability of Suárez and Llorente, Atlético signed 50 points in the first 19 games, the same as when they were crowned in 2014. And they still had the possibility of leading the last third of the championship with a considerable distance, if he was full in the two games that he still had to play. A draw at home with Celta, a defeat and a draw with Levante and another draw with Getafe (0-0) and not winning the derby at home (1-1) led Madrid and Barça to get into packed in the title fight.

“After the match with Betis (1-1), I spoke to the players about resisting and the concept of resistance was present in the team to sustain the advantage we acquired in the first round,” Simeone wielded on the grass of Valladolid after conquer the title. From the ambitious approach at the Camp Nou despite the draw (0-0) and forced to win every game, Atlético recovered its most dominating version. With watery eyes, Simeone remembered his arrival at the club in 2011 and was excited when talking about Correa. “I always tell him to score, he has played futsal. Golazo. The humble people who work, who have a lot as footballers and want to continue improving, must be taken care of and Correa is one of us ”. And he concluded: “I always tell those who come to Atlético that winning a title is very difficult, but when you win it is much more enjoyable than elsewhere. Fate has marked important moments for us, and that not always power wins, but work ”.

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