Champions League: What went wrong with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and AS Monaco?
Last season's beaten semi-finalists Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco find themselves dumped out of Europe's premier footballing competition along with German giants Borussia Dortmund. Everybody's favourite underdogs were out without putting up a fight.
As the top 16 clubs in Europe with bated breath to find their opponents in the Champions League draw in Nyon, three European powerhouses will be conspicuous with their absence. Last season's beaten semi-finalists Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco find themselves dumped out of Europe's premier footballing competition along with German giants Borussia Dortmund. Everybody's favourite underdogs were out without putting up a fight.
At the time of Bayern Munich’s sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, rivals Dortmund were unbeaten in the Bundesliga and had opened a 5 point lead over the Bavarians and despite losing to Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid in their Champions League matches, were still in contention to progress through to the knockout stage.
Cut to two months later, Dortmund sacked manager Peter Bosz after their 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen at home. Dortmund, who have been one of the most liked clubs for their footballing philosophy and their underdog status in the Bayern-dominated Bundesliga, also find themselves out of the Champions League after failing to win a single match in the group stages. Dortmund even failed to beat minnows APOEL Nicosia and only piped the Cypriot side to the Europa League courtesy of a better goal difference.
That defeat to Bremen has left them 8th in the league table and 13 points adrift of leaders Bayern. Dortmund have won only once in their 13 matches. That win was against lower league side FC Magdeburg in the German Cup 2nd round match.
Dortmund, under former manager Jurgen Klopp, perfected gegenpressing, the tactic of pressing opponents high up the pitch and which lead to destructive counter attacks. During Klopp's time at the club, the German had a core group of players like Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze around which he built his system. Crucial to his tactics were the centre-back pairing of Hummels and Nevan Subotic who were quick to close down on opposition forwards and recycle the ball to set up counter attacks.
However, with Hummels departing the club, Dortmund have lost their solidity at the back. Subotic isn't the same player he was after coming back from a lengthy injury layoff while the likes of Sokratis, Marc Bartra and summer signing Omar Toprak have been inconsistent in defence.
In attack, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been Dortmund's main attacking threat with the Gabonese striker scoring 20 of Dortmund's 53 goals this season. Though Christain Pulisic has been BVB's playmaker in chief, the American whizkid has not been among the goals this season for Dortmund. The stormy departure of Dortmund's standout player of last season, Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona, has largely curtailed BVB's attacking threat. The purchases of Andriy Yarmolenko and Maximilian Philipp hasn't filled the void left by Dembele's exit.
With Peter Stoger appointed as coach, it is to be seen whether the former FC Cologne manager can turn Dortmund's season around with a young and talented squad at his disposal.
If Dortmund lost a crucial first team member in Dembele, Ligue 1 champions Monaco saw four important members of their title-winning squad leave in the summer. Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko formed the core of Monaco's side last season where they pipped Paris Saint-Germain to the title and beat Manchester City in the Champions League on their way to the semi-finals. They also bade farewell to 'keeper Morgan de Sanctis who retired at the end of the season.
Despite this, Monaco had the quality in their squad to navigate through a group comprising of Besiktas, Porto and debutants RB Leipzig. However, the French champions could only muster two points and finished at the bottom of their group.
Unlike Dortmund, Monaco have invested their money in young and upcoming players like Youri Tielemans, Keita Balde, Terence Kongolo and Jordi Mboula while bringing in Stevan Jovetic to share the attacking workload with skipper Radamel Falcao. With no European distractions, Leonardo Jardim can challenge PSG for the domestic honours while working on his young squad.
Perhaps the most surprising exits of all, Atletico Madrid were favourites to progress through from their group consisting of Chelsea, AS Roma and Qarabag, perhaps even topping it. However, ageing players coupled with a transfer ban and a move from their fortress Vicente Calderon to the Wanda Metropolitano meant that the two-time losing finalists could only manage a third-place finish and a spot in the Europa League.
After rejoining Atletico from Chelsea, Diego Costa watched from the stands as his old side snatched a win from the last kick of the match in their first home game. They followed it up with two draws against Qarabag and even though they won against Roma, they couldn't salvage their Champions League campaign.
Atletico, as always, were sturdy at the back but it was their attack that let them down. Antoine Griezmann often had to carry the Atletico attack on his own with the likes of Saul Niguez, Koke, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres letting Simeone down in crucial matches.
Simeone also hasn't been able to phase out his old guard for young blood and it has hurt his team. Three of his defensive mainstays — Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Juanfran — are above 32 while captain Gabi is 34. Club legend Torres is 33 and is not as prolific as the Torres of Chelsea, let alone of Liverpool.
While Monaco will have no further part to play in Europe this season, Dortmund and Atletico will battle it out in the Europa league. Dortmund have drawn Italian side Atalanta, who knocked out Everton in the group stages while Atletico Madrid will face off against FC Copenhagen. Despite being Europe's second-tier competition, the Europa league have a lot of string teams like Arsenal, Napoli, Celtic, Lyon, Zenit and a resurgent AC Milan, Dortmund and Atletico can still end their European campaign on a high.
One of the reasons cited for Atletico's struggles has been their move to the Wanda Metropolitano and their struggle with adapting to their new environs. Simeone began his coaching career at Atletico by winning the Europa League in 2011-12 and he can now herald the dawn of a new era at the Wanda Matropolitano in similar style.