As the Atletico de Madrid fans left the Estadio Civitas Metropolitano on Sunday night, it felt just like old times.
They'd just seen their team win 1-0 against Athletic Club, thanks to an Antoine Griezmann strike and thanks to a solid defensive performance that allowed Los Colchoneros to collect yet another clean sheet.
Since the World Cup, Atleti have earned five clean sheets from eight LaLiga Santander matches, with Jan Oblak conceding just three league goals overall since the return of club football. That defensive improvement has brought the capital city club points, as they have won five matches, drawn two and lost just one, to leaders FC Barcelona, since the World Cup. That works out at a total of 17 points from eight games, with only Bar a having taken more in this period.
In fact, Atletico de Madrid have collected one point more than their rivals Real Madrid have done since LaLiga Santander returned, meaning Diego Simeone's side go into Saturday's Madrid Derby at the Bernabeu full of confidence.
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As the coach himself explained following the 1-0 win over Athletic Club in Matchday 22: "We have had a different kind of season, but the most important thing in life is not to dwell on problems but to solve them. We were out of the Champions League too soon and then out of the Copa del Rey, but there was a very clear change after the World Cup. The team is working hard to compete because we always compete and that brings results, which is no coincidence. I repeat, it's not a coincidence."
How Simeone turned Atletico de Madrid's season around
It really had been a difficult start to the season for Simeone and his squad, and they spent the World Cup outside of the Champions League positions in the LaLiga Santander table. Before the Qatar tournament, they'd been collecting 1.7 points per game, but they've taken 2.1 points per game since then.
The main factor behind the improvement has been the switch to a back four and the way this has strengthened the defence. Jan Oblak has made some key saves in recent weeks, but two defenders in particular deserve the most praise and they are Reinildo and Mario Hermoso.
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Mozambique international Reinildo has been one of the most astute signings in recent years and is already a fan favourite at the Estadio Civitas Metropolitano for the way he puts in so much effort and the way he can make every tackle, block and clearance look so easy.
Hermoso, on the other hand, has had his ups and downs at the capital city club. While he was a key member of the LaLiga Santander-winning team in 2020/21, the Spanish centre-back then lost his place in the starting line-up. After initially struggling to win it back, not helped by some untimely red cards or conceded penalties, Hermoso has been a fixture in the side since the World Cup, with Simeone playing him in every minute possible. And, the defender has repaid his coach's trust.
At the other end, Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa have each scored twice in the league since the World Cup, while January signing Memphis Depay has contributed one goal too, the match-winner away at RC Celta. The new-look attack is starting to click and this, combined with the defensive improvement, is helping the team to win to nil again, like the Atleti of old. Ahead of the Madrid Derby, Simeone really does have his team in fine form.