Atletico Madrid fans long for 'home' ahead of Madrid Derby

    Atletico Madrid celebrate after the club's opening La Liga match at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

    Story highlights

    • Atletico moved to new stadium this season
    • The Vicente Calderon stadium was their home for more than 50 years

    (CNN)"People were simply happier there. It was our home," Antonio Álvarez, a lifelong Atletico Madrid fan, says ruefully.

    At the start of this season, Spanish side Atletico moved into their ultramodern 68,000-seater stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, leaving behind the Vicente Calderon, the place the La Liga team had called home for more than half a century.
      The old stadium, in many ways, had come to reflect the team on the pitch; rugged, rough around the edges, but also impressive.
      The atmosphere and architecture was like no other stadium in the Spanish top flight and, in the club's toughest matches, it could be the team's heartbeat.
      Atletico Madrid celebrates after scoring the opener in the 2-0 win over Sevilla, one of only two home victories this season.
      The Wanda Metropolitano may look better, but it is not the same as the old Vicente Calderon.
      Located 10 kilometers from central Madrid, Atletico's new home is, say some, too far from their old stomping ground, which was in the heart of the Spanish capital.
      Gone is the pre-match tapas and no longer do fans congregate in the city center before the match to drink, predict scores and debate over the team's fortunes.
      "Now we have to make this new ground our home," Alvarez continues.
      "In my case, what I miss the most is the time before the match. Going to La Latina, having some beers and tapas right before kick off was priceless."
      Beatriz Moliz, a fellow Atletico Madrid season ticket holder, echoes these sentiments.
      "I think people are taking in all the changes," she says. "Not only the new stadium, name or logo, but also the stadium's location, it's too far from the town center."
      But, however difficult the move, it was necessary.
      Atletico, a team which in the last five-and-a-half years has won the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and La Liga and reached two Champions League finals, have to keep apace with their rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as football's increasingly commercial world.

      Plush surroundings, growing expectations

      Under manager Diego Simeone, Atletico have developed a distinct identity. While at times the tactics have been adapted, the same pragmatic philosophy has remained.
      The frustration towards the team's indifferent start to the season -- they are unbeaten in the La Liga but have drawn five of their 11 games -- has been exacerbated by the move to their new home.
      Atletico did not win a trophy last season
      The team sit on the verge of elimination from the Champions League group stages, too, with a draw against Qarabag at the Wanda Metropolitano the low point in a campaign which is yet to yield a win.
      At times over the past two seasons we have seen a more expansive and exciting Atletico, but this season the team seems to have retreated into its shell, their performances not befitting their spectacular new stage.
      Spanish football expert Guillem Balague tells CNN Sport: "It's true that new lights and new shapes bring new demands because the stage is so huge and so impressive that you want an Atletico Madrid that plays better football perhaps.
      "So there seems to be a divorce between the expectations of the team right now and what they can produce.
      "But it's also six years with Simeone, a guy that just gets everything out of you. And I just wonder that if, at some point, having won what they've won, having been where they've been right at the top, now everybody is like, 'pfft'.
      "It's too much."
      Simone revealed he had thought of walking away from the club following the 2016 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, but last month the Argentine signed a new contract, extending his deal to at least 2020. The 47-year-old seems determined to be part of the club's future.
      Though Atletico are experiencing a difficult period, they can still be expected to finish inside La Liga's top four, while dropping into the Europa League -- a competition they won in 2010 and 2012 -- presents a realistic chance of claiming a major trophy.
      But Balague says there is "something fundamentally missing" from the team this season.
      "I just wonder if Simeone has the capability to take this team from what it is into something else that projects better football, more offensive, that they actually don't go backwards when they go 1-0 up, they go for 2-0," says Balague.
      "Can he do it? The question mark is still there."

      Home sweet home?

      Atletico are by no means the first team to have struggled with a change of scenery.
      Since moving to the Emirates, English Premier League side Arsenal have not come close to emulating the success they had at Highbury. Indeed, the Gunners have not won a league title since moving to their current plush surroundings in 2006.
      Last season Arsenal's north London rivals Tottenham suffered an early exit from the Champions League after staging their home matches at Wembley.
      But while Tottenham's usual residence, White Hart Lane, is being redeveloped, the club is also now playing its league fixtures at Wembley and Spurs' upturn in fortunes in their temporary home could, perhaps, act as inspiration for Simeone and his men.
      After failing to win their two opening home matches of the season -- losing to Chelsea and drawing to Burnley -- Tottenham beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and have since gone on to win six of their last eight matches, including a famous 3-1 Champions League victory over Real.
      Real Madrid were thumped by Tottenham in the Champions League
      On Saturday, Atletico will play the same opponents Tottenham slayed. It is their biggest game of the season to date.
      What makes Saturday's Madrid derby all the more intriguing is that both teams are experiencing difficult times.
      Real -- who won the Champions League last season and a first La Liga title since 2012 -- are joint third in the table with Atletico, eight points behind leaders Barcelona. Neither can afford to slip up at the Wanda Metropolitano.
      Álvarez believes, much like Tottenham's win over Dortmund, that this is a match which could shape the rest of Atletico's season.
      "A victory against Real Madrid could not only mean a turn for the team, but also for the fans," he says.
      "The Metropolitano is modern but fans are reasonably close and the atmosphere could be amazing, but the team is simply under performing. Some players are not at his old level anymore and all this has coincided with the move to the new stadium.
      "We never stop supporting, but I have to say that the last couple of Champions League games have been a very big disappointment."
      Moliz says a win over Real would be "amazing" but insists the team needs to keep "fighting," a trait Atletico has become synonymous with in the Simeone era.
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      Costa to the rescue?

      Atletico reportedly spent $57m on bringing Costa back to Madrid
      In July 2016, Atletico were banned from signing players for two transfer windows after breaching FIFA's laws over the signing of minors.
      More than the move to the new stadium or the current team's failings, it is the inability to rejuvenate the squad with new blood which has arguably hit Atelti the hardest.
      The club has already completed the signings of Diego Costa -- who returns three years after departing for Chelsea -- and Vitolo, but neither player can be registered to play until the ban expires on January 1, 2018.
      There is a sense that the red half of Madrid is just waiting for the arrival of Costa, known as the "Beast," to restart their season, hoping that by the time the Spain striker arrives they are not out of contention for both La Liga and the Champions League.
      Frenchman Greizmann has been linked with a move away from Atletico
      "Quite clearly they don't have the player that they need, which looks very much like Costa, to play the kind of football that they want to," Balague explains.
      "With (Kevin) Gameiro, (Angel) Correa and Antoine Griezmann you cannot play the long ball, you just cannot do it. With Costa you can.
      "Costa and Griezmann is a very, very exciting proposition but they might just be too far away from the top of the league and maybe even out of the Champions League."
      The fans, meanwhile, are in no doubt who the man to save their season is.
      "It´s crystal clear that we just don't score despite having really good chances," says Alvarez. "Griezmann seems to be too worried about his future, Correa is the only player that gives us hope, but we all are really looking forward to have Vitolo and Costa in January."
      "I don't know if the team is waiting for Costa," says Moliz. "But I am."