Atlético Madrid entered Wednesday night's Champions League fixture against Galatasaray with one objective - and left it with another. For Wednesday's purposes, Atleti's goal was qualification. A single point would secure a spot in the knockout stages for the third consecutive year, and is there a better place to qualify than a roaring Vicente Calderón?
(The answer is no, of course.)
On Tuesday, Diego Simeone told the gathered media that the team's aim was to collect all three points against Galatasaray. Atlético could not know the break they were to receive prior to kickoff, that Astana would hold Benfica to a 2-2 draw in Kazakhstan (after blowing a 2-0 lead, but whatever). The stakes were raised, then, for Wednesday night: defeat the Turkish champions, currently mired in turbulent times, and Atleti would qualify AND go joint-top of Group C heading into the Dec. 8 showdown against Benfica.
Atlético came out flying - aggressive, forceful, ruthless in their approach. Galatasaray were quickly forced onto their heels, and the opening goal came inside 15 minutes. Gabi crossed into the box from the right side and a wild Antoine Griezmann popped up to head in his third goal of the group stage. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had no chance to stop it, especially after his jaw dropped watching Gabi's cross.
The domination continued as Atleti built up possession and launched everything towards Muslera. Opportunities fell to Filipe Luís and Koke. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Fernando Torres threatened. The whistle went for halftime, and while the mattress makers were firmly in control and facing no pressure, they could not put Galatasaray to bed.
The intermission did not bring a respite for the battered visitors. A chance for Koke, saved by Muslera. Tiago header from a Jesús Gámez cross, close but no cigar. Torres sent through by Griezmann, cleared after a scramble. Atlético's attack flowed freely and worked many openings, but could not quite find the knockout punch.
Five minutes after the hour, Tiago played a short pass to Koke, who cleverly backheeled to Gabi lurking on the edge of the box. The captain darted in, dribbled around defender Hakan Balta and megged Semih Kaya before he picked out Griezmann in the six. The Frenchman tapped in easily to register his fourth goal of the group stage - all against Galatasaray - to put the game away.
Much like their weekend win at Betis, Atlético could have registered three or four goals and accordingly fattened the scoreline. Luciano Vietto came on, had a big chance and tried to set up a couple others. Óliver Torres nearly scored his second Champions League goal in three shortly before the full-time whistle. The expected goals map for this game (courtesy of the superb Michael Caley - @MC_of_A) shows the balance of chances and how comprehensively Atleti managed to grind down Gala.
With a Round of 16 berth clinched for the third straight year - a first in club history - attention now turns to Espanyol on Saturday. But when Atlético return to Lisbon in just under two weeks, they will have another objective: winning Group C.