Atletico Madrid said goodbye to 2010 in La Liga last night, with a comfortable 3-0 victory over struggling Malaga.
The victory in the Europa League ensured European football at the Vicenti Calderon for this season after they finished 9th in the league. The big stars returned from the World Cup and the rumoured departures did not occur.
There was a genuinely positive vision that this could be a very big season for Los Rojiblancos. But a good start faded as the consistency of the team wavered from one game to the next.
And the defence of their European crown ended in the first group stage. In typical Atleti fashion the pressure fell onto the shoulders of the coach, Quique Sanchez Flores, the man who brought the first piece of silverwear to the club in 14 years. Five months after the glory in Hamburg against Fulham, the rumours in Madrid was that defeat on the south coast against Malaga would lead to a search for a new head coach, who would be the 14th in the last 10 years.
They say fortune favours the brave, and Sanche Flores was certainly brave on Sunday evening with his team selection. Out went the regular 4-4-2 formation that had been used since he got the job in October 2009, tonight he sent the team out as a 4-3-3. In came an extra ball winner in midfield but out went Diego Forlan, fresh from receiving the Golden Ball, as the best player at the World Cup in South Africa. Forlan’s form has been erratic this season and he has only provided 6 goals for the cause so far, which is down on the previous returns he has brought to the club since his arrival in 2007.
Out along with Forlan was his fellow Uruguayan, Diego Godin. Godin arrived in the summer from Villareal following an impressive World Cup but he has not been able to make the Atleti defence more solid, like was initially hoped. In came Alvaro Dominguez, a regular last season who has been at the club since he was 12 years old, and the defence kept a clean sheet at Dominguez also scored.
The tactical gamble’s paid off and Flores will still be coach when the league restarts in January, which is the least he deserves for the good work he has done at the club. On Wednesday they face Espanyol in the first leg of the last 16 of the Copa del Rey, another tournament that has been good for the club in 2010, finishing runners up in May.
In January, Flores will have yet another midfield player to try and accommodate in his squad, Atletico have announced the signing of Brazilian midfielder, Elias from Corinthians.