The resurgence of Levante and Real Madrid, and the near invincibility of Barcelona domestically, means that Atletico may find themselves on the outside looking in when next season’s European competition comes around, says Martin Whiteley.
Not since the 2015-16 season — when they lost five times — has Atletico Madrid finished outside of the top two positions when league play has finished. The next four campaigns saw Atletico lose only four top-flight matches, but things have changed this time around with them already tasting defeat on four occasions in Primera Division Femenina action.
The inability of Atleti to see the game out started in just their second game and has come back to haunt them multiple times throughout this campaign. Add to that an uncharacteristic trait of them not defeating all the sides near to the foot of the table, and you can see the main factors that have contributed to their challenging league campaign so far.
Normally synonymous with long unbeaten streaks, Las Rojiblancas has not put together a run that has lasted more than seven games in all competitions. If you only count league games that number drops even lower down to six.
That problem of Atletico not being able to string a set of results together was highlighted again this past week.
Despite receiving two penalties, Atleti fell 2-0 away from home in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at Chelsea on Wednesday. At the weekend it was all smiles again as Atletico gained a 4-0 victory on their travels versus Real Betis. This victory moved the fourth-placed side onto 41 points from 21 games.
In terms of current league position, the problem for Las Rojiblancas is that the two teams immediately above them were also triumphant.
Second-placed Levante advanced onto 47 points after they claimed a 2-0 success away to Eibar, whilst Real Madrid — coming off a 2-0 victory at home to Logroño in their game in hand in midweek — were able to stay three points behind Levante with a 4-1 home victory versus Espanyol.
Any thoughts Atleti had of catching their usual main rival Barcelona this campaign is now only a distant memory. After a midweek 4-0 last-16 Champions League first-leg win at home to Fortuna Hjorring of Denmark, the leaders followed that up with a 3-0 victory away to Santa Teresa domestically. That victory for the champions was their 18th straight in league play this season and they still have three games in hand on their nearest challengers.
Even with the additional European spot now on offer in Spain this term, the pressure is certainly on Atletico to end the season in the top three. With the near invincibility domestically of Barcelona at the moment, the resurgence of Levante, and the presence on the scene now of Real Madrid — not to mention Madrid CFF, Real Sociedad, and UDG Tenerife who are also still in the mix — those three Champions League places could fill up fast.
If Atletico can’t soon find one of those long unbeaten runs that have been a hallmark of their success over the previous campaigns then – when next season’s European competition comes around – they could well find themselves on the outside looking in.
Follow Martin on Twitter at @673martin