Atlético Madrid returned from the two-week international break fit and in high spirits. Atleti did not lose a single player to the dreaded "FIFA Virus," and while some may have been a little tired from all the traveling, Diego Simeone recovered just about all his key pieces (with the exception of Luciano Vietto, whose bum appendix will keep him out a few more weeks). That includes Koke, who had missed the team's previous four games. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Atleti lost two and drew one in that span.
Koke's return served as the impetus for Sunday afternoon's 2-0 win in San Sebastián. Both teams entered the day needing points - but for different reasons. Atleti had an opportunity to move into the top four with a win and end, for now, concerns regarding the team's shiny new pieces not fitting in. Real Sociedad, on the other hand, needed something resembling a convincing display in order to save manager David Moyes' job. The former Everton and Manchester United boss was handed a €25 million transfer kitty this past summer to land Bruma, Asier Illarramendi and Jonathas, but with one win through seven matchdays, the faith that Sociedad's board showed in him over the summer had not been re-payed.
And in the ninth minute, La Real's rapidly-shrinking faith in Moyes shrunk even more. Atlético came out roaring in the Basque Country, not least of which the team's emerging talisman - a former Sociedad hero himself. It was a counterattack that started with relative innocence, but by the time Koke laid off to Antoine Griezmann from just inside the center circle, it was clear danger was afoot. Griezmann exploded through the Sociedad defense with a savage burst of pace, then pulled up and calmly lobbed keeper Gerónimo Rulli with the left foot. It was a sumptuous finish and the Frenchman's fourth league goal. He did not celebrate.
Atlético continued in much the same fashion for the first 20 minutes before the yellow card parade began. Giménez was booked minutes before the Griezmann goal. Ángel Correa was shown a caution after 15 minutes. Diego Godín soon followed. Sociedad's Markel Bergará and Alberto De la Bella were next. The first half soon dissipated into harmless midfield possession, which suited Simeone's men fine as La Real threatened very little. After 45 minutes, Atleti led 1-0.
Sociedad got more of the ball in the second half and turned the possession numbers around, but were consistently pinned outside the box. Carlos Vela, the team's main attacking force, managed only 47 touches and had to deal with Filipe Luís and his quickly-improving form on the right wing. Atlético continued to run but did not launch any attacks (and didn't seem terribly interested in doing so). Changes were made. Correa and Jackson Martínez were yanked just after the hour in favor of Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Fernando Torres. The defense strengthened as La Real began to build toward an equaliser.
Then Moyes made his move 15 minutes from time, sending Bruma on for Sergio Canales. Five minutes later, Sociedad very nearly did get that equaliser. Vela won a corner after flashing a shot just wide of the far post, and after a block by Giménez, Filipe had to clear off the line after a mix-up. Smelling blood, Moyes ordered on Jonathas and Rubén Pardo, and Simeone countered by switching to a 4-5-1 and removing Griezmann for more midfield insurance in Saúl.
It was here that everything fell apart. Diego Reyes, who had enjoyed a solid game to this point, was shown two yellow cards in two minutes - one for a tackle on Torres and the other for protesting said tackle. Down to ten men, Sociedad tried to appeal for a penalty after Giménez tackled Jonathas in the box, but referee Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva was not moved.
Atlético killed the game on the ensuing counter. Torres received the ball from Tiago and sprinted down the right wing, finding Carrasco with yards of green ahead of him. The flag stayed down as the Belgian rounded Rulli and opened his Atleti account in added time. Jonathas was sent off for vigorously protesting the non-decision by Villanueva, and the game ended moments after Sociedad were reduced to nine men.
Up next: back to the Calderón to welcome FC Astana in the Champions League on Wednesday.