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Over the last decade, Atletico Madrid have been synonymous with both pressure and defense. Under Diego Simeone, there hasn't been a better defensive team in Europe's top leagues than Los Colchoneros. But the days of a prime Diego Godin leading the backline are gone, and while the team has largely remained elite defensively, this season it hasn't been the case. Ahead of a visit from Manchester United on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 (catch the action on CBS and Paramount+), Atleti will need to find some sort of consistency if they are to overcome rival Cristiano Ronaldo and the Red Devils.

Before this current season, one riddled with injuries and filled with an uncharacteristic lack of cohesion and form, Atleti were at times impossible to score against. In the 2015-16 season, they allowed just 18 goals in 38 league games, an astonishing number when you consider champions Barcelona allowed 29. Outside of Simeone's first season, the most they had conceded was 31 in 2012-13 ... until this season. 

From the 2014-15 season to the 2020-21 season, Atleti conceded on average just 0.66 goals per game. Not once did they allow 30 goals in a season in that span. This season, it's been another story. They've allowed 34 goals already with 13 games to go. That average of 0.66 goals against per game stands currently at 1.3 for this campaign -- almost double their historical norm.

SeasonGoals concededGoals against per match

2021-22 (through 25 games)
























But why is this happening? Well, there are three main reasons.

Injuries have hurt cohesion

It's hard to find consistency and cohesion when so many players are hurt. Aside from Mario Hermoso (23 games played but did miss some time), the main starting center-back pairing of Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez has missed extensive time. Savic has missed eight league games, while Gimenez has missed 10.

That has forced Simeone to put fullback Sime Crsaljko (he's played just 12 games in the league) and central midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia at center-back at points this season.

The good news is that he's had his pairing of Savic and Gimenez together as of late, and he'll hope they get back to top form before long, but the performances haven't been there just yet.. They both started in the Feb. 6 game at Barcelona and proceeded to concede four times.

Struggling with consistency 

From January 9 to February 12, Atleti had a stretch where they conceded multiple goals in four straight games, something the club hadn't experienced in 12 years. This just isn't the Atleti defense we are used to, and because of that they are no longer as ferocious or intimidating. In the Champions League anything can happen, but unless a switch is flipped and they stay healthy, another deep run in the competition feels unlikely. 

Having a veteran striker like Luis Suarez in attack has impacted how effectively they apply pressure as he's no spring chicken anymore, and the midfield has also struggled with pressing out wide. 

On top of that, the shape they try to keep defensively has been poor with a disconnect between the backline and the midfield. There are reasons to believe they can put it together, but so far this season, they haven't in more than small stretches.

Oblak out of form

Goalkeeper Jan Oblak, not too long ago, was considered by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world. And while he is still one of the best, he's having a down season. Oblak is facing less shots per game, but they are of a higher quality and, as we've already covered, opponents are finding the net more often against him than ever before. When you compare the goals he's allowed to the post-shot shot expected goals value he's faced, he's allowed almost nine more goals than an average goalkeeper would be expected to while facing those shots. Over the last three seasons, he's saved 10.6 goals more than an average keeper would and this season he is at -8.57, meaning he's allow nearly nine more goals in than expected. That's a 19 goal swing!

When something that drastic happens it's almost certainly down to more than one cause, and part of it has to be the injury issues in defense creating opportunities for shots that are "better" than even the post-shot model can see, but those have combined with some clearly poor attempts at saves, including conceding more goals from outside the box than in past seasons. 

A season removed from winning La Liga Player of the Season, Oblak is having the roughest campaign of his career, and that's contributed in them going from league champs to struggling to be in the top four.