February 28 saw the end of Kieran Trippier’s 10-week betting ban and his return to Atlético Madrid’s matchday squad. His loss has been clear with faltering form and an uncharacteristic leaky defence but what will having Trippier back mean for Atlético and their title charge?

The current LaLiga leaders have been one of Europe’s most in-form teams and have taken Spanish football by storm with Diego Simeone’s new fluid attacking football. To see how a famously ‘park the bus’ and route one side became genuine title contenders, one only has to look at their right-back.

On 17 July 2019, Trippier departed Champions League runners up Tottenham Hotspur for the red and white half of the Spanish capital. It was a tough act to follow for the Englishman as he came in to replace a club icon in the form of Juanfran who had held down the position from 2011 all the way to 2019.

The pressure and confusion from the footballing world also made the arrival all the more challenging for the former Burnley man. It was a move out of a FIFA career mode rather than real life but the 29-year-old’s £20million switch paid off perfectly for Los Colchoneros with Trippier taking to life in Spain like a warm knife through butter, registering five assists and helping the side towards 22 clean sheets in his first season.

His debut saw his first assist, a cross whipped into Álvaro Morata, who headed home in the first match of the season against Getafe. He set up goals against Osasuna, Levante and Alavés in LaLiga as well as whipping in a corner to see Héctor Herrera complete a two-goal comeback in the Champions League versus Juventus, also making an important goal-line clearance earlier in the game.

The impact Trippier has had on the team has been made evident by the poor form since his 10-week ban was imposed. Since his departure from the starting XI, Atleti have kept just one clean sheet in eight league games, conceding twelve and dropping seven points. Their lead at the top also fell to just two points having been four points clear in his last game before the ban and seven the game before.

This is compared to eleven clean sheets in twenty games and twelve conceded with Trippier in the side. A clear sign of his importance to the side and their style of play. A solid defence is imperative to their attacking intent, as it always has been.

The goalscoring has suffered less, the loss of his five assists in fourteen league games has resulted in twelve goals scored in the seven games since his suspension was confirmed. With Trippier in the side, Atlético bagged thirteen in as many league games. This is testament to the attacking talent of Luis Suárez, Yannick Carrasco and Ángel Correa, among others. However, without their star full-back behind them, the goals scored mean less with more going in against them.

His loss also resulted in an almost complete reshuffle, Simeone had to deal with one of Europe’s most underrated players being taken away by The FA. Sime Vrsaljko, Marcos Llorente and Correa have all been used to attempt to fill the void with a flat back four and attacking back three with wing-backs tested to find the best way to cope without the full-back.

All the worse for Atlético is the loss of their seemingly insurmountable lead at the top of LaLiga, both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have come into within three points of the 2013/14 league champions. At the time of writing, the league leaders are five points ahead of Barça in second and Madrid in third. Simeone’s side have also played one game less than their direct rivals (24).

The good news is that Trippier will be available for this weekend’s mouthwatering Madrid derby at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The original ban came in on 21 December, running until 28 February. Atlético appealed to FIFA over whether or not the FA had the right to ban a player not currently residing in their country or league. FIFA upheld the ban and Tripper was unavailable until March.

His return should see a resurgence in Atlético’s bid to win their first title in seven years. Come 23 May we could well be seeing Trippier with his first league title.

It’s a potential title decider on Sunday but Atlético Madrid supporters will be hoping it doesn’t come down to a game against their arch-rivals; a runaway lead from an outstanding team will prove far more comfortable, and the return of such an important player should reignite their lost form and aid in their domination of LaLiga this season.

Ben Nichols