A solid defence and Griezmann – Atletico growing ahead of Madrid meeting


By Ben Hayward

Atletico Madrid are back on track. Since losing third place in La Liga last month, Diego Simeone’s side have won their last three Primera Division matches and are improving at just the right time as Real Madrid await in the Champions League in mid-April.

The goals dried up somewhat for Atleti between the end of February and mid-March, which saw the Rojiblancos score just two in five fixtures. But three successive 2-0 wins have seen Simeone’s side reclaim third place in La Liga in impressive style (with a goal in the first five minutes of each game) and build some much-needed confidence ahead of the two-legged tie against Madrid.

Antoine Griezmann’s goals have been a big boost. The France forward is enjoying an excellent debut season at the Vicente Calderon, but had struggled somewhat since January. Simeone welcomed his return to scoring form after he hit his second in as many games on Tuesday to make it 19 for the season. He refused to celebrate against former club Real Sociedad.

“Griezmann is scoring again and that’s what we need from him,” Simeone said afterwards. “We are happy he is back in the goals and let’s hope he continues on that line. He is very young and has a great future ahead of him.”

And the player himself added: “It’s normal you have a dip at some point in the season, but we are up there and now we will fight for the Champions League.”

As well as Griezmann’s glut, Atleti’s amazing defensive discipline gives the Spanish champions another reason to believe they can upset their city rivals in Europe’s premier club competiton – as they have done already this term in La Liga, the Spanish Supercopa and the Copa del Rey – after losing out to Real in the final in Lisbon last season.

Atletico have now gone five full games without conceding a single goal and were impenetrable again on Tuesday – even without their best defender Diego Godin.

“Being defensively strong has always been our structure over these last few years,” Simeone added. “That says a lot for the group of players as a whole – not just the defence.”

And Griezmann agreed.

“We know that if we keep clean sheets, we have much more chance of winning,” he said. “So we have to keep on like this.”

In six meetings with Madrid so far this term, Atletico have won four and drawn two, keeping three clean sheets in the three home matches – the last of those in their shock 4-0 victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s side in La Liga at the Vicente Calderon back in January.

Griezmann scored that day as well and his return to form is timely as the two teams prepare to meet over two legs later this month.

So even though Atletico may not be firing on as many cylinders as they were this time last season, recent evidence suggests they will be extremely difficult to beat. But then, Madrid know that, anyway…

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