MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid need to focus all their attention on getting an inconsistent Antoine Griezmann firing again as they prepare to meet bitter rivals Real Madrid on Saturday, former goalkeeper and coach Abel Resino has told Reuters.
Griezmann, Atletico’s top marksman for the last three seasons, has gone 596 minutes without scoring in all competitions for his club and had to face the ignominy of being substituted in the last league outing against Deportivo La Coruna, when his side were still chasing a winning goal.
Diego Simeone defended that decision by declaring Griezmann was “just another member of the squad”, although Resino, who spent nine years playing for Atletico, believes the Argentine coach needs to prioritise returning the France international to form.
“Griezmann is a unique player for Atletico, and now that he’s underperforming, they need to make sure he returns to the player we all know he can be,” Resino said in an interview with Reuters.
“Atletico don’t have the luxury of allowing him to drop off. They have to recover his level because he’s a top player, one that makes the difference.”
Atletico, who broke Real and Barcelona’s nine-year stranglehold on the Liga title in 2014 and reached the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016, have suffered from Griezmann’s dip in form this campaign.
Simeone’s side are fourth in the standings, level with Real but eight points back from Liga leaders Barcelona and on the brink of being knocked out of the Champions League.
“Atletico need his goals, they’re not a team that usually thrashes opponents like Barcelona and Real Madrid, their games are much more closely fought so they can’t allow their top players like Griezmann to be out of form for long,” said Resino.
Griezmann is not the only person feeling the pressure to perform in the first derby at Atletico’s shiny new, 68,000 capacity stadium the Wanda Metropolitano.
Simeone has shouldered part of the blame for Atletico’s slow start, while Zinedine Zidane has faced renewed questions from Madrid for his side’s nimble defence of the title they swept to last season.
“It’s a new page of history and it’s a vital game for both teams,” added Resino, a double King’s Cup winner with Atletico who also coached the side between February and October 2009.
“Real can’t afford to fall even further behind Barcelona, and nor can Atletico. In football these days you are never far from a crisis and if Atletico win on Saturday then the crisis shifts Madrid’s way.”
Resino still holds the Liga record for the longest run without conceding a goal, going 1275 minutes across 13 games in the 1990-91 season without letting the ball slip through the Atletico net.
He broke the previous record in a memorable 3-0 win over Real in a derby at the Bernabeu, which he ranks as his best derby memory alongside a 2-0 win at Real’s famous stadium in the 1992 King’s Cup final.
Resino, 57, has also coached Liga sides Levante, Celta Vigo and Granada and is currently biding his time searching for a new coaching job outside Europe.
“Atletico have always been a team with a real fighting spirit and self belief,” he added.
“We’ve never had the financial power of Real Madrid or Barcelona, that’s a huge handicap and Atletico have always had to fight against that, to fight against history. But Atletico have so much pride and Simeone has taken them to a higher level in every sense, to become one of the top clubs in Europe.
“The best thing the club did with Simeone was to build the club in the image of a coach and this has given them a real sense of identity. They did something they hadn’t done for many years, they took an idea and believed in it, signing players that fitted the mould. That’s why they have had all the success we can see today.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, Editing by William Maclean