Diego Simeone acknowledges his inability to find a winning formation is the key to Atletico Madrid's below-par season, as the LaLiga champions prepare to welcome Antoine Griezmann back.
Atletico won the title last year and appeared primed for back-to-back successes when they recruited well while Real Madrid and Barcelona saw only limited transfer business.
Rodrigo De Paul arrived from Udinese and Matheus Cunha from Hertha Berlin, before Griezmann returned on loan from Barca.
Although Griezmann scored only three league goals before sustaining a hamstring injury at the start of January, Atletico have thrived in attack. With 42 goals, they rank third in LaLiga.
By contrast, however, the defensive bedrock on which Simeone's success has been built appears to be no more. Only seven teams have conceded more than their 33 through 23 matches – Atletico's most at this stage of a season under Simeone.
Shipping two or more goals in eight of their past nine league matches, Atletico enter Wednesday's game against Levante outside of the Champions League places in fifth.
Given late winners from Mario Hermoso have rescued results in two of their past three games, contributing to a league-high 15 points won with goals scored in the final 15 minutes of matches this season, Atletico's position could be even worse.
Simeone continues to seek a solution for his side's poor form, but he believes this might actually be the problem.
The Atletico coach, who deflected questions on his future after "10 wonderful years" in Madrid, said ahead of the Levante match: "There are many years playing in the same way, but every year is not the same.
"After the pandemic, when everyone saw us out of the Champions League, after the game with Liverpool, we were four or five points behind those above us, and it was very difficult with 11 matchdays to go.
"The team followed a plan in the 4-4-2, and we won eight games and drew three, and you saw on the field what the team wanted to do.
"Last season we started with the 4-4-2, we saw that we needed a change. We went to 5-3-2, and following that line, the team had a plan and took it forward in a good way.
"This season, I take responsibility, I was continuously changing in search of better things. Let's see if I choose well now and they follow the path I will choose."
While Atletico's issues are clearly at the back, the attack is only set to get stronger with Griezmann's involvement. He will not feature against Levante, though.
"We are happy to have Griezmann back," Simeone said. "He is coming back on Thursday to train with the team. We will have him soon for the Osasuna game [on Saturday].
"Apart from [Angel] Correa and Matheus, who are doing a great job, we also have Luis [Suarez], Joao [Felix], very important players in a decisive position. The more competition between them, the team will always win."