Simeone defends side's lacklustre start to season

MADRID • Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone claimed his side have enjoyed an "extraordinary" year despite a poor start to their league season and narrowly missing out on both the Champions League and La Liga titles last season.

Saul Niguez's fine strike handed Atletico their first win in four games in a nervous 1-0 victory over Las Palmas on Saturday, but they are still nine points behind league leaders Real Madrid having also played a game more.

Last week, Atletico captain Gabi Fernandez admitted that the club are facing the biggest crisis of the Simeone era.

However, the Argentinian manager stoutly defended his side's record this year as they lost out on a first Champions League title to Real on penalties in May and finished just three points adrift of La Liga champions Barcelona.

"Taking into account where we have come from, we have ended an extraordinary year," said Simeone, whose side will enter the new year sixth in the league table.

"It was a year in which the team managed to compete in the final of the Champions League, almost until the final day in La Liga, we are once again in the last 16 of this edition of the Champions League and the Copa del Rey has started well.

"It is true we have been a bit inconsistent in La Liga, but it was an historic year for the club."

One of Spain's strongest sides defensively in recent years, Atletico gave away three goals in their opening eight league games but have since conceded 11 in their last eight matches.

They let in just 18 league goals in 38 games last season.

Atletico are not in league action again until Jan 7 as La Liga takes a winter break over the new year.

"The break is there to rest and we will always look for solutions that can help the team come back strong," said Simeone.

Forward Antoine Griezmann in particular looks in need of a rest as the Frenchman failed to score for a ninth consecutive La Liga game.

Griezmann was rewarded with third place in the Ballon d'Or last week for his fine year in leading both Atletico and France to the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals respectively.

And Simeone insisted the goals will come in the new year should Griezmann maintain his level of performance.

"Griezmann is playing as we have become accustomed to, but unfortunately the goals aren't coming for him," Simeone said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline 'Simeone defends side's lacklustre start to season'. Print Edition | Subscribe