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What we learned from Atletico Madrid 2-1 Rostov

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Griezmann sends Atleti through to the last 16, sparing red and white blushes

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Rostov - UEFA Champions League Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Here are a few things that came to light during Atletico Madrid’s hard-fought 2-1 win over Rostov on Tuesday night:

  • Atletico are great when Antoine Griezmann doesn't score and Atletico are great when he does.

In case you haven’t been with us the past month, Antoine Griezmann had been in a bit of a scoring drought. The talisman had not scored since Oct. 2, and despite all the little things Griezmann continued to do to make Atletico go, some had become concerned that the Ballon D’or candidate seemed content to roam around the final third and set up Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro rather than go for goal himself. The Frenchman’s predatory instinct for goal really never went away, but he delivered the goods on Tuesday - because the team needed him. Rostov were organized and only a quarter of Atleti’s shots needed to be saved by goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanaev. The two that weren’t were Griezmann specials: a spectacular finish just inside half an hour and the winner, a (maybe offside?) left-footed poke at the end of injury time.

Griezmann’s moments of genius come when he passes or when he shoots, and the balance he strikes between both is what makes him a world-class player. Los colchoneros are impressive with Griezmann as main creator or with Griezmann as main scorer, and Rostov dared him to be the latter on Tuesday night and break his month-long drought. He did.

  • Sime Vrsaljko is really good.

It was natural to wonder when we would see Vrsaljko in the team again after he played all 90 minutes of Atletico’s 5-0 win over Sporting Gijon on Sept. 17. Vrsaljko needed minutes to show his quality and that he could/should be Atleti’s right back of the future, and it was good to see him on the team sheet before this game. The performance that followed showcased why he was regarded as one of Serie A’s best full backs last season. While he may require some polish in defense, his passing was reliable and his crossing was very dangerous. Diego Simeone was impressed after the game, and perhaps Vrsaljko gets more opportunities in the coming weeks.

  • Rostov came to play.

The long, long trip from Rostov to Madrid didn’t seem to impact the Russian side as many thought It would. Rostov took advantage of a more open Atletico in the first half and pounced on a big defensive lapse (that’s now one in each of the past three games for Simeone’s men) to equalize just after Griezmann opened the scoring. Sardar Azmoun’s goal was just the fifth Atleti have conceded in a Champions League home game during the Simeone era. Rostov had to hang on in the second half in the face of an all-out assault, and the final shot tally read 31-6 in the hosts’ favor. But it’s telling that Rostov’s players fought until the last second, when they were awarded a free kick in dangerous territory after Griezmann put Atleti ahead again.

  • Diego Simeone probably will not rotate vs. PSV.

For the fourth year in a row, Atletico will partake in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Bayern Munich also secured progression with a 2-1 win in Eindhoven but remain three points behind Atleti. The Bavarians endured a test in the Netherlands and are set to face another one in Russia in three weeks’ time, while the mattress makers will host PSV before the big* Dec. 6 clash in Munich.

You may have seen the asterisk next to “big.” Atletico can win Group D and are in prime position to do so. It’s possible Atleti could do it before Dec. 6, too, especially if Rostov surprise Bayern. Regardless of whether Rostov take points from that encounter or not, Simeone likely will want a strong side to take the pitch on Nov. 23. That way, Atleti can increase its chances of still being three points clear (or more) atop Group D prior to boarding the plane for Munich.