Thanos is not at work here, but the footballing powers that be certainly were on Thursday, when Atlético Madrid exited the Copa del Rey with no win for the first time because of 2011.
Segunda B side Cultural Leonesa did the job, aided by the new single-elimination format. Following Ángel Correa poked a João Félix through ball to the web, Atlético decided to sit back and wait out the clock half an hour stayed on it afterward Correa scored.
About 108 minutes, striker Sergio Benito (Spanish word alert) sentenced the game with a near-post finish from a well-executed counterattack. It’s easy to blame Adán on the winning target, but Santiago Arias was captured in World War I-era no man’s land while Saúl needed to pay for the wayward Manu Sánchez on the opposite flank.
Total time, 2-1. Diego Simeone’s Atlético was knocked out of the Copa del Rey via a “Culturalazo.”
Gregorio Manzano was a guy on the ropes since the 2011/12 year approached the halfway mark.
Things were not going well less than six months to the prior Mallorca boss’s second stint in the Spanish capital. However, a run of three wins out of 12 league matches saw the group concede 26 goals and sink to 10th in the table, with 19 points out of 16 competitions. To make matters worse, Manzano also had dropped out with José Antonio Reyes arguably the team’s most important player at the time, and the winger left for Sevilla whenever the winter window opened.
Segunda B side Albacete had shocked Atlético from the opening Copa del Rey match on Dec. 8. Adrián Lopez had brought home an away goal after Alba had gone 2-0 up through set-pieces, and Atleti had lost only once at home that year. Manzano was probably a goner anyway, but he could see the group through to the last 16 of the cup, right?
In the second leg, the trainer played with eight members of the group that would go on to win the league less than three decades later. However, Víctor Curto’s goal within 20 minutes finished the tie, the “Albacetazo” was complete and Manzano received his marching orders the following day.
In the eight years between these farcical effects, Atlético have made two Champions League finals and won seven prizes in all. The club moved from the Vicente Calderón and shattered its transfer record four times. Atlético are in another stratosphere since the new decade begins and are considered as a European giant.
Simeone’s aging group puttered along last season and experienced two devastating cup eliminations. However, it finished second in LaLiga and saw plenty of fresh blood to join the rankings over a costly summer. Now, a third-division group has them from the Copa — and deservedly so.
Simeone’s guys have scored more than two goals just three times this year, and they have only the league (where they’re eight points off the pace) and the Champions League (where they’ll face holders Liverpool) for which to fight. Backing up a Brinks truck for Edinson Cavani is an inherently short-term move for a club that eventually started to think longer-term last summer and despite the participant’s elite goalscoring record, it is a desperate move.
Talk of Simeone’s cycle coming to a close has shown premature previously. Even though the group’s persistent attacking issues and harm struggles, the results came in only a consistent enough clip to make sure a top-three complete and one great cup run. But said results haven’t come this year. Atleti’s soccer still borders on dreadful away from home and Cholo’s strategic and tactical stubbornness has made his group much easier to deal with. A few years back, a loss like the one suffered in Eibar last weekend could have sent Atleti on a complete tear. On the contrary, it’s led to some other reduction, one meeker and more bewildering than the past.
Symmetry this eerie cannot be ignored. There is already on-field evidence to indicate Simeone’s eyesight is murkier with this squad, his cries in the dugout somewhat softer. He’s two-plus years left on his contract, yet the end feels closer than ever — not today, not next week, no point before the season finishes. But remember Thursday night’s disaster in León if Simeone’s storybook training spell receives a downer ending later this year.