Atlético, Real Madrid and Barcelona struggle early on
By TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — There’s work to do for top Spanish clubs after their Champions League group openers.
Atlético Madrid needs to fix its defense, Barcelona its attack, and Real Madrid has to improve both its defense and attack.
Valencia was the only Spanish club to start with a win, an impressive 1-0 result against Chelsea in London.
ATLÉTICO’S SHAKY DEFENSE
Atlético Madrid is suddenly struggling where it used to thrive — in defense.
After two clean sheets to start the season, Diego Simeone’s stout defense began to falter, conceding six goals in the last three matches in all competitions.
The latest goals came in the 2-2 home draw against Juventus on Wednesday, when Atlético had to rally after going down 2-0 in the second half. It had already conceded twice in the 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad and the 3-2 win against Eibar, both in the Spanish league.
“We have things to improve,” Simeone said. “Two goals against Eibar, two against Real, and two again tonight. We need time to improve, and hopefully we will make as few mistakes as possible while we work to improve.”
Simeone had to revamp the defense after the departure of key players in the offseason, including central defender Diego Godín, the team’s longtime captain. Other defensive pillars who left were veteran left back Filipe Luís and right back Juanfran Torres.
The only defensive starter from recent years featuring against Juventus was central defender José María Giménez. He was alongside Stefan Savic, who was in previous squads but without regular play. It was a goal by Savic, after a set up by Giménez, that put Atlético back in the game on Wednesday.
Héctor Herrera then equalized with a 90th-minute header after a cross by former Tottenham right back Kieran Trippier, one of the newcomers in the Atlético squad. On the other flank, Atlético is using Brazilian Renan Lodi, who is only 21 years old.
Simeone said the result against an experienced team like Juventus was important going forward.
“It will be good for us,” he said. “Not only because of the point, but because it showed that we can keep having confidence in ourselves and can keep improving.”
BARÇA’S LACKLUSTER TRIO
Lionel Messi had a hard time getting past opponents. Luis Suárez was ineffective in front of the goal. Antoine Griezmann couldn’t create significant scoring chances.
The much-anticipated debut of Barcelona’s attacking trio finally happened this week, but it didn’t go as everyone expected.
Messi, Suárez and Griezmann played together for the first time in the 0-0 draw at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, being unable to add any spark to Barcelona’s attack in the team’s Champions League opener.
They were together for only about 30 minutes as Messi came off the bench in the second half, but it was enough for critics and some fans to start questioning the high-profile trio.
“A trio without a punch,” said the sports daily Marca.
“Messi back in a quiet trio in Dortmund,” said El País.
Griezmann arrived as the team’s top offseason signing but had not been able to team up with Messi and Suárez because of injuries to the duo early in the season.
“We didn’t really shoot on goal, we need to improve on that,” Griezmann said. “Obviously this is only my second month here, I have to get used to my teammates and they need to get used to me. We need to keep working.”
Coach Ernesto Valverde said there was no reason to worry just yet.
“It was just the first 30 minutes for Messi in the season and the first full match for Suárez,” he said.
UNSTABLE REAL MADRID
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is blaming the demoralizing 3-0 loss at Paris-Saint German on the team’s lack of intensity.
“At this level, if you don’t show intensity, you make it difficult for yourself. We lost all of our one-on-one battles. We know what a good team they are, but it was a poor match for us. We didn’t play at the level that we had to play.”
Madrid has now conceded nine goals in its five matches in all competitions this season. It was not able to get a single shot on target on Wednesday in Paris.
Madrid’s next match is another difficult one, at Spanish league leader Sevilla on Sunday. Madrid has lost four straight league games in Seville, with its last victory in 2015.
“We are not happy with the performance, but we have to think about the next game,” Zidane said in France.
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