ATM XI: Moyà, Vrsaljko, Giménez, Lucas, Sergi, Gaitán, Thomas, Augusto, Keidi, Vietto, Torres. Subs: Saúl for Thomas (59’); Moya for Bare (59’).
ELC XI: Vallejo, Verdu, Golobart, Albacar, Calero, Lopez, Benito, Flores, Sanchez, Kaba, Pla.
The Copa del Rey still represents something special for Atlético Madrid fans after Diego Simeone’s success in the competition in his first full season as manager. Though Atlético have not been as close to the Copa in recent years as they focused on other competitions, it provides an opportunity to see some young players that Simeone would not play otherwise.
Some of the replacements coming in for this match were Sergi González, Keidi Bare and Augusto, who all started. The younger guys received important developmental minutes, and Augusto received important rehab minutes. Simeone continues to rotate, which has had its positives and negatives, but this was a team certainly capable of beating Elche. Lucas Hernández and José Giménez got one of their first starts as a center back pairing as well.
Atlético’s first Copa del Rey match of the year started off at a frantic pace, with both sides pushing early on in the match. Captaining the side as he has many times before was Fernando Torres, who had a good chance two minutes in to convert a Šime Vrsaljko cross at the near post. Just 17 minutes in Atleti took the lead after a good counter attack resulted in a corner after good work by Vrsaljko and Luciano Vietto. From the resulting corner, the ball fell to Giménez on the other side of the pitch, and he delivered a fantastic cross into the six-yard box for Thomas Partey, who headed the ball into the ground and into the net. It was not the best corner in the world, but both the cross and header were of significant quality, giving this young Atleti team a lead to defend.
After his great assist, Josema almost doubled Atlético’s lead in the 24th minute from a good Nico Gaitán free kick, but he just missed his header. Ten minutes later, Vietto hit the post after a fantastic counter attack opportunity. It’s the sort of goal Atleti needed to score, and Vietto himself badly needed that to fall his way.
At halftime, Atlético looked comfortable and were by far the better side. That was to be expected, but a one-goal advantage is never safe — as Atleti learned six minutes into the second half.
Elche were awarded a penalty after Lucas put in a challenge on Lolo. Though the Frenchman won the ball cleanly, the referee decided there was enough contact to award the penalty. Lolo tucked away the penalty and Atlético needed to respond. Simeone decided to throw on Saúl, but he could not generate headlines on his homecoming. It was Vietto who did that.
To say Vietto had a stinker would be an understatement. The striker was not without opportunities, often finding himself running through one on one against Vallejo, but he missed three separate 1v1 opportunities. Neither striker had much of a presence in this match, and further highlights the lack of attacking depth at Atleti. Just having bodies there does not make the depth useful, as Vietto and Fernando Torres have yet to impress this season.
The match was still open, and truthfully, Elche had just as many chances to take the lead as Atlético did. Perhaps the most interesting part of the second half was Josema requiring a Rambo-esque bandage after getting a gash on his head. But it ended 1-1, and while the tie remains winnable with the second leg at home, Atleti should have put this out of sight.