We are almost through the international break, and will soon be treated to not only the first Madrid Derbi of the season, but the first ever Derbi at the Wanda Metropolitano. Atleti fans will hope their sleep-walking side will rise from the dead and start showing their true (if it’s even their true form, anymore) selves from their 2013-2015 reign; and Zidane will hope things have stabilized a bit since Asensio’s golazo against Las Palmas, which spurred Real Madrid to start exuding confidence again.
Joining me to discuss this further is Robbie Dunne of AS (@RobbieJDunne). If you want an even more thorough preview of this weekend’s heavyweight fight, check out my latest Churros y Tácticas Podcast with Jeremy Beren of Into The Calderon; or stay tuned for tonight’s Colchonero Chat, which I will be taking part of.
Kiyan: Robbie, it's been very interesting following you over the years, and seeing you go from being very high on Atletico, to gradually pumping the brakes on them over time. This is clearly not the same Atletico of the past. Why is that?
Robbie: Atletico got brought back down to earth this season, and it’s been happening over the last couple of seasons. The lacquer has worn off and when Simeone was asked to evolve, he hasn't really been able to do that. He will go down as an Atletico Madrid legend and I'm not sure if he is to blame for some of Atletico's transfers but a lot of it has to do with poor recruitment and the development of those recruits. The likes of Vietto, Kranevitter, Santos Borre and players like that have all been dreadful but arrived with big promises. Not waiting for Costa and buying Gameiro has been a mess too. That goes hand-in-hand with Simeone's faith in the older players. Time has moved on and Simeone just hasn’t. A very clear example of that is with Sime Vrsaljko, who has all the tools to be Atletico's right-back and the ambition to go along with it, but is being forced to the periphery by Juanfran. There are lots and lots of reasons including Atletico regressing to the mean but the recruitment is one big issue.
Kiyan: What are the 'positives' you can extract from this season?
Robbie: If you really want to look for positives, it looks like the cycle is coming to an end, and with a new cycle comes fresh hope. The new era won't, most likely, ever reach the heights of Simeone's but there have been some good names thrown around like Napoli's Sarri, amongst others. The club seem committed to staying at the top of the food chain and will invest money so any fan who sees investment in their club has to be excited. The other pluses include Costa and Vitolo. The new era that I'm referring to may or may not have Simeone in charge but with those players, along with some others, Atletico might get their verve back.
Kiyan: How much does Atletico miss Koke and Carrasco right now?
Robbie: I struggle to answer the Carrasco one because I'm not sure what Atletico are doing in attack most of the time so I'm not sure if he would make a difference in any case. Koke is a huge loss in the general mood and tempo of the game. He is a player that is only missed when he is gone and while I can be critical of Koke for not doing more, there is a reason he is so important to Simeone and keeps getting picked by Julen Lopetegui. Koke is the kind of calming influence that Atletico need. Thomas is excellent, Saul too, but that consistency is so vital to Koke's game and Atletico. To paraphrase a great NFL player, if you need an 8 out of 10, Koke can give you an 8 out of 10, if you need a 10 out of 10, Koke can give you an 8 out of 10 performance.
Kiyan: How big of a blow would it be to lose Vrsaljko to Napoli?
Robbie: I don't really think he is *that* good. He is a very capable right-back but I think he is replaceable. The issue is that we shouldn't even be talking about replacing him. He's being pushed out by an aging Juanfran, who has struggled in big games. Vrsaljko is doing it regularly for his country and when he gets a chance for his club. I would understand if he wasn't playing well and struggled to adapt; and while he is not irreplaceable, he shouldn't need replacing in the first place. It's a problem Atletico are creating for themselves, if that makes sense.
Kiyan: On this week’s Churros y Tácticas Podcast, Jeremy felt if Theo Hernandez appeared, the Wanda would destroy him. What do you think his reception would be like?
Robbie: It's a really loud stadium in general so I'm not sure if it will sound worse than it actually is. I'd say Theo won't play in any case but yes, whatever about leaving Atletico and eventually winding up at Real Madrid, Theo pushed for a move to Real Madrid. I can't imagine the reception will be welcoming.
Kiyan: Call it.
Robbie: As down as I am on Atletico, I genuinely think Real Madrid have several questions to answer to. They look erratic in attack, dodgy in defense, and lack composure and confidence. Their squad depth was discussed last year and we fell into the trap of thinking they had everything sussed. The new guys haven't won over Zidane and the other guys haven't been pushed like they were last season. I can't see any way Atletico don't score but I can't see Real Madrid being kept scoreless either. I'll go for a 1-1 draw.