Home comforts elude Atletico Madrid after move to Wanda Metropolitano
It has been something of a source of frustration for Atletico Madrid fans this season that when they appear to be on a roll, something pegs them back. You would not go as far as to say it is one step forward, two steps back -- two forward, one back perhaps -- but there is just something that is not quite right with the side.
Having not played overly well, they got themselves into a comfortable 1-0 lead against Sevilla -- a team with a disastrous recent record in the Spanish capital -- and somehow contrived to not only allow the Andalusians to get back on level terms but take a priceless 2-1 lead back to their place for the second leg next week. This is just something Atleti do not do.
Worryingly, it was almost as strong an XI as Diego Simeone could select, bar Jan Oblak in goal. The Copa del Rey represents a realistic chance of silverware this season and it is a competition they can ill-afford to take lightly. Sides like Alaves, Sevilla themselves and Athletic Bilbao have all reached the final since Los Rojiblancos last did and their fans deserve a day in the sun -- not least because their new Wanda Metropolitano will be the host of the showpiece event at the end of the season.
Granted, there are players out of form and stinking the place out -- Stefan Savic and Saul Niguez deserve a special mention here, and Antoine Griezmann has been erratic. However, the loss to Sevilla represents something more than just too many key players enduring an off day: It screams of a side still not at ease in their new surroundings.
There are two ways of looking at it. The optimist can say that these are just teething problems, players -- and fans -- getting acclimatised to their new surroundings and trying to feel at home. Besides, to have endured such problems and still be sitting second in La Liga, 10 points ahead of neighbours Real Madrid, bodes well for when the side do actually click into gear. That is true; however, it owes as much to Real's struggles as anything.
The pessimist (and this author is starting to drift into said category) will, however, tell you that the change of stadium has been a bad thing.
There is just not the same kind of ambiance as there was at their old ground, where the Vicente Calderon faithful would ensure the stadium lived up to its name and turned into a cauldron. It was a place no side wanted to visit either in La Liga or Europe. That aura has gone completely. Chelsea's come-from-behind victory, swiftly followed by Qarabag's deserved draw, saw to that.
In what you would class as "big" games at the Wanda (against direct top-four rivals Sevilla, Villarreal, Barcelona and Real Madrid and in Europe), Atleti have played eight times, recording only two wins, throwing away a winning position three times to boot.
Simply put, that is something that would never happen at the Calderon. Let us not forget this Atleti side who failed to beat Chelsea and Qarabag at home in this season's Champions League is the same team (unchanged, given the transfer ban) that topped a group containing Bayern Munich last season.
Of course, there are other mitigating factors. The ever-reliable Diego Godin looks like an accident waiting to happen next to Savic, who Simeone insists on keeping faith with despite Jose Maria Gimenez's form, and nobody could have banked on Saul's form falling off a cliff nor Filipe Luis's extended period on the sidelines with injury. But this squad should be faring better at home.
The one bright spot is the return of Diego Costa. He has scored three in four games since returning (and been sent off!), and the Spain international is proving as box office as everybody was expecting. With two of those goals already at the Wanda, he certainly looks at home there.
His Atleti teammates need to follow his lead and start to be more comfortable in their surroundings. With La Liga exactly at its halfway point, they are well-placed to push on and consolidate second place, not to mention the small matter of putting a Europa League run together and silverware.
Yet there is still that nagging doubt: Should Atleti draw Arsenal or Dortmund in the next round, can they beat a big team? It is up to the players to start building a winning mentality and prove they can do so.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.