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Atletico Madrid bear weight of Lisbon and Milan against Real Madrid

Thursday 4th May 2017
The crowds poured out of the resplendent Santiago Bernabeu after what was another memorable European night for Los Blancos. Half of Madrid was jubilant while the other departed with their heads down after being dismantled by their city rivals.
The group of Atletico Madrid fans who stayed behind long after the rest of the ground was silenced to bellow the club anthem into the night's sky were not there to cheer the performance on the night, but rather as a reminder of what their team has achieved under Diego Simeone over the last six years. They are grateful for the fact nobody expected last night's destruction job which had become a regular occurrence prior to the fierce Argentine's arrival.
He has taken Atletico Madrid from relegation candidates to European giants in a little over half a decade at the Vicente Calderon. However, last night it seemed as though the weight of their last two European finals in three years – both agonising defeats at the hands of their neighbours – was too much to bear for the Rojiblancos.

What is usually a steadfast, organised defence looked nervy and unsure of themselves as the firepower of their illustrious rivals pounded them without respite from the off. The compact, aggressive unit that has defined their success looked porous and Kroos, in particular, took full advantage of the uncharacteristic amount of time he was gifted on the ball to dictate proceedings with a masterful ease. The gulf in class between the two squads was far more evident than it has been in recent meetings. Since the Simeone revolution, what Atletico have lacked in guile, they have always more than made up for with sheer determination, but it looked as though Lisbon and Milan had beaten it out of them before a ball was even kicked yesterday evening at the Bernabéu.

Lack of belief is certainly not a characteristic of Simeone's teams, nor of the man himself, but it is a particular set of circumstances that have befallen the Madrid underdogs over the last four years. Defeat in their second European final in three years last time out in Milan left the Argentine, and his team crestfallen, to the point where the battling boss insinuated that perhaps the time had come for him to step down – he had taken this team as far as they could go, he said.

Atletico Madrid fans will be hoping that last night wasn't the final straw for their commander-in-chief, who has understandably become one of the most coveted managerial assets in world football. Indeed, he masterminded the route to their first Champions League final on wage budget dwarfed by QPR and has made no secret of his desire to one day coach Inter Milan.

While the tie is not over, as “Cholo” characteristically pointed out after last night's rout, it looks like only a matter of days separates the Colchoneros from another painful Champions League exit at the hands of their bitter rivals. Whether it comes as the knock-out blow to an era of comparative European success remains to be seen.
Nick Purdue
I'm a writer and translator living in Madrid, Spain. Fallen in love with the country and its football.

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