By Karl Matchett.


Atletico Madrid headed into the new year full of positivity, top of La Liga and in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, making a new midfield signing in Augusto Fernandez and finally adding Matias Kranevitter to their squad too after he joined from River Plate in the summer.


Since then though a hectic January and some tough fixtures have seen them slip to second in the league after defeat to Barcelona, and exit the Copa at the hands of Celta Vigo, and los Colchoneros are now four matches without a win. Heading into their weekend game at home to Eibar, Atleti need to get back to winning ways quickly but are facing the prospect of a reduced squad and some late transfer deals, which could easily hamper their bid to fight on two fronts-La Liga and the Champions League.


Diego Simeone's strengths in both tactical preparation and motivating his players will be severely tested in the coming weeks, with the first game against Eibar pivotal in getting the team back on track.


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Back four, down to one


The defence of Atletico this season is all but set in stone: Juanfran on the right, Filipe Luis on the left and the Uruguayan duo centrally, Josema Gimenez and Diego Godin. New signing Stefan Savic has come in at times for the younger of the central two, with Jesus Gamez an irregular starter on either side.


A cornerstone of Atletico's success has been their resilience, organisation and consistency in the back line-but that is all to change at the weekend against Eibar, with three of the four set to be missing through suspension. Godin and Filipe Luis were both shown red cards against Barcelona, the latter landing a three-match suspension, while Juanfran picked up his fifth yellow and will sit out a match accordingly.


Where the squad had previously looked well-rounded and capable of covering for an injury or two, losing three-quarters of the defence is another matter entirely. Gamez will naturally fill in at full-back on one side, but Atleti loaned left-back Guilherme Siqueira out to Valencia just before the transfer window shut, meaning young defender Lucas Hernandez will have to come in. With Savic to partner Gimenez in the middle, it leaves Simeone without a senior defender to call on for a bench spot.


Versatility in the squad is a necessity at this point and Saul could move back to defence from midfield if needed, but he has been a star in the middle third of the pitch over the past couple of months and Simeone would be loathe to move him without justification. 


There's also the centre of midfield itself to consider: with Tiago out injured and Augusto having joined him, Simeone's options for the holding role are depleted and Saul is likely to be required in his more usual role. 




In attack, it's hard to come to the conclusion that despite being a man light for the rest of the season, Atletico Madrid have dodged a bullet.


Jackson Martinez has departed the Vicente Calderon after just six months and scoring three goalsÂ….but, somehow, Atleti have turned a €7 million profit on him. The misfiring Colombian failed to impress, got injured on international duty and lost his place in the team and has left for China with Guangzhou Evergrande, leaving Atletico's bank balance looking healthy but the attack looking light.


Luciano Vietto simply has to start stepping up and contributing to the goals, while Fernando Torres-once fully fit-has to get the monkey off his back by netting that long-awaited 100th goal for the club.




If Simeone doesn't like to unnecessarily alter the team on a regular basis, he makes up for it by playing those who prove they deserve the chance-Saul is the best indication of that, having started 10 Liga games in a row after not being in the side earlier on in the season.


The next few games will yield chances for one or two players, with Gamez likely to be one but Lucas Hernandez having possibly his biggest chance yet to stake a claim for a place in the team on a regular basis. Further forward, if Yannick Carrasco continues as a centre-forward, Oliver Torres may get a look in midfield-or Angel Correa could come back into the side.


There remain options in place, but many are of a prospective and promising nature rather than players who are established and reliable. Youthful exuberance and the need to impress can still win out for Atleti, but the last week of the transfer window, on and off the pitch, has killed the ongoing reliability in the experienced heads in the squad.