Atletico Madrid, Leagues, Spanish Primera División, Story

Following their back-to-back draws against Qarabag, the ESPN FC panel question if Atletico Madrid’s UCL dominance is done.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo has strongly defended coach Diego Simeone following recent criticism.

Simeone has established Atletico among Europe’s leading clubs since taking charge in 2011, winning the Europa League, Copa del Rey and La Liga as well as reaching the Champions League final in both 2014 and 2016.

Atletico have endured a difficult 2017-18 campaign so far, though, with Simeone’s side currently fourth in La Liga, eight points behind leaders Barcelona, and in serious danger of failing to qualify for the knockout stages of Champions League.

Asked if he could have imagined that Simeone would be facing criticism, Cerezo told Marca: “I want to say this in a loud voice. Simeone is untouchable at Atletico Madrid, for the players, for the directors and for the supporters.”

He said having doubts about Simeone “is not allowed here.”

Cerezo has said Atletico currently have their best-ever squad and, asked about that comment, he said: “I keep saying so. We are playing a game, and games are the way they are. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Atletico have failed to win in the Champions League so far this season, having drawn with Roma, lost to Chelsea and then twice been held to draws by Qarabag.

“We could have scored four against Roma and then we had 14,000 chances against Qarabag,” he said. “It’s not just a problem specific to Atletico that players can be more or less clinical, but it’s a problem for a lot of elite clubs.

“I keep saying we have a fantastic squad, a wonderful coach and a phenomenal fanbase. That’s enough for me.”

Antoine Griezmann — who was a finalist for the 2016 FIFA Best Men’s Player award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi — has failed to replicate the form of previous seasons and was substituted during the recent victory over Deportivo La Coruna while Atletico were still searching for a breakthrough. 

Asked if the 26-year-old remains untouchable, Cerezo said: “He hasn’t had much luck at the start of this season. He had a fantastic end to the previous season and he is still considered one of the best three players in the world. The advantage is that he is younger and has more of a future than the other two.

“Everybody has their moments. It may be the case that he’s not going through the best one right now, but I am convinced that it won’t take long for him to be what we all want him to be once again, the Griezmann that he is. After all he has shown, there’s no reason to doubt him or lose confidence in him because of playing five matches not so well.”

Griezmann agreed a new contract in the summer despite having been strongly linked with Manchester United, but his €100 million buyout clause remained intact.

The forward suggested he had agreed to stay as a result of Atletico failing to get their transfer ban overturned, and with Diego Costa set to be registered in January after his return from Chelsea, the France international’s future remains the subject of regular speculation.

“We have put in a lot of effort to keep him and to keep all the players,” Cerezo said. “The problem Griezmann has had is that a series of news stories about other important European clubs wanting him has not benefited him.

“Griezmann is and will be an Atletico player. He is an important player and at an important club and he wants to win titles with Atletico. He may have had a start to the season which could have been better, but there is a lot left of the La Liga season for him to show how important he is for the club and how important football is for him.”

Asked how he felt about Griezmann’s regular media comments on his future during the summer, Cerezo replied: “What important player doesn’t play this kind of game? They all do.”

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