x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Diego Simeone's immediate impact at Atletico Madrid

The Argentine has sparked a rapid reversal of fortunes for the club since taking over as coach.

Diego Simeone has made an impressive start to life as Atletico Madrid coach.
Diego Simeone has made an impressive start to life as Atletico Madrid coach.

Atletico Madrid fans have long learnt to expect the unexpected. Despite losing Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Simao and David de Gea in the last close season, they started this campaign in confident mood with their €40 million (Dh191m) record signing Falcao promising much after joining from Porto.

When the Colombian scored hat-tricks in consecutive games in September, such optimism looked justified, yet Atletico would register just three more wins from their next 13 league games. They were also be humiliated in the Copa del Rey by third division Albacete, a result which led to the December dismissal of the coach Gregorio Manzano, who had only been in charge six months.

Diego Simeone, the former captain who led Atletico to a league and cup double in 1996, replaced Manzano and despite saying that things "need to be taken slowly" the Argentine has launched a transformation.

Atletico drew at Malaga and then beat Villarreal 3-0 before recording a 4-0 victory at the weekend at a Real Sociedad side unbeaten in seven games, their first away win of the season. Of the team who won 4-2 against Sociedad last season, just four played for Atletico on Saturday.

Atletico have not conceded a goal in three games under Simeone - they had not managed a clean sheet in nine before he took over. They are also scoring, with the back in form Falcao getting his third hat-trick of the season in the Basque country to take him up to 14 league goals do far. That is better than anything Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan could manage at Atletico.

Falcao, a fast, robust striker completely different in style to the aforementioned Atletico heroes, has also scored three in the Europa League, the only place where Manzano prospered to reach the knock out stages after 10 games - and eight wins.

Simeone's side face a tie against his former club Lazio, but it is in the Primera Liga where the strongest judgements will be made.

Atletico are now eighth. With fourth place Levante sinking after a their blistering start, a Champions League spot is there for the taking.

The club have lost players who wanted to play in the Champions League in the past, but if Falcao stays on form they could be back featuring again on the biggest stage.