Fifa transfer ban puts the shackles on goal-shy Atletico

Atletico Madrid defender Filipe Luis reacting in frustration as another chance went begging against Qarabag on Tuesday. The Spanish side's chances of progressing to the Champions League knockout stages are slim.
Atletico Madrid defender Filipe Luis reacting in frustration as another chance went begging against Qarabag on Tuesday. The Spanish side's chances of progressing to the Champions League knockout stages are slim.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID • Diego Simeone defended Atletico Madrid's style as another profligate performance left his side on the brink of an early Champions League exit after being held 1-1 at home by 10-man Qarabag on Tuesday.

Back-to-back draws against the Azerbaijani champions, playing in their first Champions League campaign, mean Simeone's men have to beat Roma at home and Chelsea away in their final two games and hope Qarabag perform more miracles to progress to the last 16.

Atletico's major problem in recent months has been finding the net and their lack of cutting edge was evident as they had the most attempts on goal (32) of any side in the Champions League this season for the reward of only one goal.

And they once again conceded from a set piece as Michel headed Qarabag into a first-half lead - the seventh time Atletico have conceded a headed goal this term.

Atletico's shaky backline is the most remarkable aspect of their decline. They had the strongest defensive record in four of the previous five seasons in LaLiga and two years ago conceded fewer than one goal every two games.

But Simeone defended his side.

"We have always played the same way," said the fiery Argentinian. "In the past six years, we have won 30 or 40 games like this and the only difference is when you score the goal, people talk about strength and spirit, and when you don't, they see the more negative part."

Atletico, Champions League finalists in 2014 and last year, have paid a heavy price for a Fifa ban on registering new players until January.

Club-record signing Diego Costa, who returned from Chelsea for €66 million (S$104 million) and Vitolo cannot feature until the new year.

"I believe you get what you deserve," added Simeone. "We have to try to beat Roma and then destiny will decide if we deserve to continue or are eliminated."

Atletico rallied in the second half to level through Thomas Partey's long-range strike.

The hosts had the advantage of an extra man for most of the last half-hour as Pedro Henrique saw red for a dangerous late challenge on Diego Godin. But Godin, Filipe Luis and Nicolas Gaitan passed up big chances to snatch Atletico's first win in the group.

"What hurts most is that we don't have matters in our own hands, that is the cruel reality," said club captain Gabi.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Fifa transfer ban puts the shackles on goal-shy Atletico'. Print Edition | Subscribe