The breakdown of Atlético’s breakdown

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INVASION! Ahead of the FC Porto vs Atletico Madrid game, Tim Stannard of blog La Liga Loca crosses the border to describe the weirdness that is Atletico Madrid

The original mission the FourFourTwo bosses gave La Liga Loca was to deliver a careful, detailed and thoroughly thoughtful thesis of what Porto needed to do against Atlético Madrid to win Wednesday’s Champions League clash.

The initial two-word response – “Turn up” – was deemed somewhat lacking in depth by the prissy, picky editors.

So as a compromise, the blog has been given permission to pick up its journalistic AK47 and blast the Rojiblancos into iddy-biddy pieces while assessing their chances in the midweek clash.

As well as being a football club from one of Madrid's grottier barrios – although the stadium is a 20-minute stroll from lovely La Latina – Atlético Madrid forms an important part of the planet’s Gaian consciousness.

It is an ancient institution that, like the tides, has its own rhythm, its own ebbs and flows.

It’s the Kate Bush of la Liga. Incas called an earlier incarnation of the club "The great sh*t one in the sky."

This being the time when summer turns to autumn, the skies darken and the wind blows in from the north, causing instant complaints of “¡que frio!” from thin-skinned Madridileños, Atleti are going through a totally crap phase. (The second phase of the current annual cycle is due in February).

During this time, the club’s footballers make Ipswich Town look good and supporters suddenly remember that their two owners, Enrique Cerezo and Miguel Angel Gil, are a pair of dysfunctional goons and perform laps of the stadium in their masses to remind them of this.

But then Atlético pick up a few wins and all this is forgotten for the next four to five months.

Even by their lofty standards, Atlético’s current league campaign has been little short of a disaster so far, with the side lying third from bottom of the table and still without a win.

Their Champions League start was even worse, with a goalless home draw against APOEL Nicosia in the Vicente Calderón.

The heart of the problem lies, as always, with the defence.

Although APOEL player Nuno Morais scoffed that “Ujfalusi and Pablo are the Achilles heels of Atleti” he may as well have named any of the mugs currently gifting goals to sides the length and breadth of Spain.

The mischievous work of a Real Madrid-supporting master of the Dark Arts – and believe us, there are an awful lot of those about – is the only rational explanation as to why defenders who are perfectly fine playing for someone else turn into dunder-headed cloggers when turning out for Atleti.

All season, the Atleti defenders have been left bothered and bewildered by offside traps, long balls or one-twos.

As a collective, they are so hair-pullingly horrendous that many fans are looking back with fondness to the days when Johnny Heitinga was around.

Unfortunately, Atleti have been made even weaker at the back with their Spanish under-21 keeper Sergio Asenjo far from home and facing the likes of Tahiti in an international tournament – leaving rookie Roberto to pick the balls out of the back of the net. Nine times in the last three games, in fact.

The club’s current central midfield pairing of Paulo Assunçao and Cleber Santana would be fine for a mediocre, mid-table team, but not for one with top-four aspirations.

It's always useful if your midfielders know what to do with a ball, but this less than dazzling duo can neither prevent it going past them - opposition players are often waved through and handed a lollipop - nor offer much to facilitate its movement in a forward direction.

The so called Fantastic Front Four – so-called by La Liga Loca last season, anyway – has let itself go a little over the past year, with left-winger Simao becoming an annoyingly inconsistent player and a total bottler when it comes to mixing it with opposition fullbacks.

The only thing Maxi, on the other flank, has offered to the Rojiblanco cause over the past year has been an equaliser against Valencia on Saturday night and a series of scowls.

Diego Forlán and Kun Agüero are pretty much the only thing that Atlético have going for them.

And, once again, they will be asked to make up for the rest of the side’s inadequacies. 

In last season’s Champions League knock-out clash against Porto, Atlético were torn a new one in the Vicente Calderón but escaped with a 2-2 draw, only to go out of the tournament after a goalless game in Portugal.

The same kind of treatment will be handed out again this time as Porto hurl hellfire and thunder at Atlético's backpedalling backline.

But despite the terrible defence, the mediocre midfield and the failing forwards, Atlético are still going to win. 3-0.

Because that’s exactly why Atleti are such a very special club and a genuine force of nature.

Read more from Tim at La Liga Loca – or read Sergio "The Portugeezer" Santos's guide on how to beat Porto 

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