European disappointment has led to Los Rojiblancos going back to their roots this season, writes Martin Whiteley.
When goalkeeper Lola Gallardo first joined Atletico Madrid back in 2012, she told the club website: “It is one of the largest clubs in Spain, which takes great care of its image and is perfectly organised. Every year it grows little by little.”
The 28-year-old helped the side to three consecutive titles from 2016 to 2019 before joining Lyon last year but has returned to a team that’s progress has stalled.
They may currently top the Spanish Primera Division after a 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano in their league opener at the weekend but, for the first time in five seasons, Atleti will not be participating in European football this term.
To make matters worse, their cross-town rivals Real will be after impressively securing the runners-up spot last season.
Going into the previous campaign, and with an extra Champions League spot on offer in Spain, it seemed highly unlikely that a club with the pedigree of Atletico would fail to secure a top-three position.
Victory in the Supercopa Femenina in January looked to have kickstarted the season for Atleti, but it proved a false dawn as their inconsistent form continued.
In fact, it was only a run of nine league games unbeaten — including four straight wins to end the season — that enabled Las Rojiblancas to climb up the table and occupy fourth place.
Oscar Fernandez replaced the departed Jose Luis Sanchez Vera in the technical area; the Villacanas-born coach signed a two-year deal with Atletico, having previously spent the last couple of seasons across the city at Madrid CFF.
Fernandez has been keen to promote the importance of clean sheets as well as attack in pre-season, so reinforcements were quickly brought in to bolster the ranks at that end of the field.
Goalie Gallardo rejoined the club to provide additional competition for Hedvig Lindahl after she saw little playing time with Lyon, while defender Benedicte Simon arrived on loan from PSG.
Further experience was added to the Atletico ranks with the arrival of Estefania Banini and Amanda Frisbie who, like Gallardo, both signed on the dotted line for two seasons.
American Frisbie, who is equally comfortable in midfield or as a centre-back, followed the coach across town, while talented midfielder Banini joined from Levante.
As well as having to overcome Barcelona and Real in the league, the red and white side of the city will also have to surpass Levante who claimed the final Champions League place last term.
Two solid performances saw them advance from the first round mini-tournament in Trondheim, Norway, before they suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat by Lyon in the first leg of their second-round clash last week. But the late goal by substitute Giovanna Crivelari means it’s still all to play for ahead of Wednesday’s away leg in France.
With only domestic action to focus on this season, Atletico were able to fully prepare for the start of the league campaign and showed their attacking threat against Rayo Vallecano.
Players like Gallardo understand what it takes to play for a big club like Atleti, which will give fans hope that last year’s difficulties were just a blip and not an indication the club is edging away from its true ethos little by little.
Follow Martin on Twitter at @673martin