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Simeone during a recent game. EP
The safest seat
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The safest seat

When his motivational powers were being questioned, Diego Simeone came out fighting

Thursday, 6 April 2023, 12:40

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The Man in Black is back; although, truthfully, he was never likely to be going anywhere!

It's remarkable to think that some experts were predicting that Diego Simeone's days as the Atlético Madrid coach were numbered.

In the bleak midwinter his team crashed out of Europe; bottom place in their Champions League group they didn't even earn a place in the secondary competition. The pressure intensified when up-town rivals Real Madrid knocked them out of the Spanish Cup.

For the first time in his tenure, his motivational powers were being questioned and speculation was rife about a successor. A team renowned for punching above its weight was wobbling.

The Argentinian didn't buckle, he went back to doing what he does best, he came out fighting.

The trademark black suit, shirt, and tie combination got a fresh pressing. The piercing eyes assessed his underperforming squad and he took big decisions.

Troubled João Félix became Chelsea's problem for the second half of the season. The under-performing Matheus Cunha was sent to Wolves and Felipe was sold to Nottingham Forest. The only major signing was Memphis Depay from Barcelona.

Without the distraction of mid-week European excursions, he could get to work on the training ground and realign his players. Atlético's success has always been built on defence and so he welded José Giménez, Stefan Savić, and Mario Hermoso together. Behind them, they have Jan Oblak who now holds the record for the most appearances for a foreign-born player. Together, they have recorded seven clean sheets in 10 matches.

Antoine Griezmann is closing in on the club's all-time goalscoring record and he's rolling back the years in a non-defined position. His role is similar to Lionel Messi's at Barcelona; he has the freedom to read the game from within and roam at will.

Griezmann is the star turn but it's a total team effort. Take Ángel Correa, a long-time favourite of the manager; he's not an automatic choice, but gives everything for the cause when called upon. His late winner against Real Betis was described as a "street goal" by Simeone.

Saúl Ñíguez was another lost soul whose career has been rejuvenated at the Metropolitano. No longer a starter, he accepts that he'll be trusted to enter the arena in almost every game to carry the team over the line.

Even the fans don't escape the attention of Simeone! At one point last Sunday night, when he felt the atmosphere had fallen flat inside the stadium, he started lurching his arms above his head like an orchestra conductor reaching the crescendo of a symphony. The crowd reacted by pumping up the volume which raised the game of the home side and rattled the visitors. In a raucous atmosphere, the winning goal was scored with just four minutes remaining.

Now Atlético are unbeaten in eleven games, virtually assured of third place, and they have their sights set on catching rivals Real Madrid who are just five points above them.

No longer is Simeone being scrutinised, he sits in the safest managerial seat in European football.

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