Simeone deserves some blame for tactics, selections in Atletico's slump
To regular observers of Atletico Madrid, Wednesday's drab draw with Qarabag will have come as no surprise. This is a side that have scored just 14 goals in 11 games this season -- five of which came away to the out-of-form Las Palmas.
This was something of a nadir. In Diego Simeone's tenure as boss there have been plenty of drab performances, but Atleti have always managed to get the win -- be it from a corner or an individual moment of magic. This time, however, they just looked devoid of inspiration, not managing a shot on target in the second half.
It is all well and good putting in a standout display to be the first La Liga side to stop Barcelona from winning this season, but Barca play into Atleti's hands. Qarabag, like Leganes before the international break, showed exactly how to combat this team: give them the ball and say "what have you got?" The answer right now is "not a lot".
A couple of injuries and dips in form can only mitigate so much. Likewise, the transfer ban meant the club were unable to recruit in the summer, however the squad was deemed good enough 12 months ago, so why not now? Or why were better players not brought in then?
Vitolo and Diego Costa arrive in January, but it might be too late. Neither of them signed up for Europa League football and the irony is that both of their current parent clubs look well placed to advance to the last 16 in Europe's top competition -- unlike Atleti.
On Wednesday, the image of Antoine Griezmann playing in crosses from the left wing to nobody was a damning one. The club's top goalscorer over the past three years and star man was wasted. It smacked as if Simeone had ran out of ideas, and that image spoke a thousand words.
The club's chances of making it to the knockout stages of the Champions League are currently hanging by a thread. This is obviously by no means a cry for "Simeone out", but he must shoulder his responsibility of the blame for his tactics of late.
While the Argentine cannot physically kick the ball in the net for his players, it is his job to pick the side most capable of doing that. Kevin Gameiro is a pacey forward who likes to play on the shoulder of the last defender. So why was his first appearance since an 11-minute cameo on Sept. 23r against a team that were never going to cross the halfway line?
Then, there is the Nicolas Gaitan experiment. You must to assume the only reason he is still at the club is the transfer ban meant the squad would have been a man light if he left, yet as he trudged off, shoulders slumped after an hour of looking like he would struggle for a game in the Azeri top division you have to ask what is the point of picking him.
You can count the number of good games he has had in Madrid on one hand -- the number is one -- and that came in a Benfica shirt two years ago.
Simeone's persistence with his countryman is as baffling as it is frustrating for the fans. Surely a youngster like Keidi Bare -- who impressed in preseason and couldn't do any worse -- would be a better bet in this squad than a man who looks like he is sleepwalking to an inevitable exit after showing he is not quite cut out for this level.
The same can be said of Luciano Vietto, who after playing six games earlier in the season has not made the matchday squad for the past two matches. The penny dropped with Simeone on Vietto and you suspect the same is about to happen with Gaitan. It certainly should, anyway.
Obviously, all is not lost. They sit fourth in La Liga just a point behind neighbours Real in third and two off second-placed Valencia having played direct rivals Sevilla and Barca already.
However, lately things have been worrying for Los Colchoneros, who need something to give their season liftoff. Simeone must find himself or re-invent this side starting at Celta Vigo this weekend.
It is a tough place to go, however a 4-0 victory full off attacking football away to the Galicians last September sparked a nine-game unbeaten run -- of which eight were victories. Another performance like that in Vigo and it may well be just what the doctor ordered and kick-start their season.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.