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Kévin Gameiro’s disappearing act

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Atlético are rotating more than ever, but the high-priced Frenchman has yet to get in on the action.

Club Atletico de Madrid - Training & Press Conference Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

These are strange, new times at Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone is embracing rotation like never before — and for the second consecutive season, Atlético are unbeaten in LaLiga entering the second international break. However, the increasing dependence/reliance on youth and squad depth has had a couple hiccups. It’s also come at a price for Atleti’s older players, including Gabi (has started five of nine games in all comps), Diego Godín (has already missed three games) and Juanfran (just three league starts).

The most curious casualty thus far, though, has to be Kévin Gameiro.

In July 2016, Gameiro arrived in Madrid as Simeone’s Plan B, once it became clear Chelsea would not sell Diego Costa. The France international went on to produce a wildly inconsistent season in red and white; he was at times brilliant, forming an excellent partnership with compatriot Antoine Griezmann. But there were the patches of invisibility and the inability to take chances when the business end of the season came along (I need not remind you of the glorious chance he blew in the Champions League semifinal first leg). Gameiro could not escape the “enigmatic“ tag — in hindsight, maybe it wasn’t a great idea to spend €32 million-plus on a slight-of-build forward who has scored three times in 17 UCL appearances and who hasn’t scored 20-plus league goals in six years.

Still, Gameiro is a fine striker. He did score a dozen league goals last season. He’s blazing fast and has undeniable chemistry with Griezmann; only Grizi created more goals between LaLiga and the Champions League than Gameiro’s 20. You could do worse than him — in fact, Simeone already is, by playing Luciano Vietto over him.

Vietto has made five starts already this season and has yet to score. Despite an improved work ethic (nearly two tackles per 90 minutes), he looks the same awkward fit he was in Simeone’s team two years ago. El Cholo has him, so he has to use him, but Vietto has failed to last more than 65 minutes in any appearance and Atlético have been held to a goalless draw in three of the 23-year-old’s past four starts — in one of those starts, against AS Roma, he missed a golden opportunity 1v1 to put his side ahead.

Gameiro, meanwhile, has made just two substitute appearances for a total of 27 minutes: he played 18 minutes of the 0-0 draw at Valencia and nine minutes in the 2-0 win vs. Sevilla. He has yet to share the pitch with Griezmann or attempt a shot.

Griezmann and Ángel Correa are Atlético’s two best forwards — that’s not debatable. But what IS debatable is El Cholo’s decision to give Vietto burn while Gameiro sits on the bench. It perhaps has something to do with the 30-year-old’s reported decision to go on summer holiday rather than get a groin operation, which led to him missing the season’s first two weeks. That could have soured his relationship with the coach — who had already told him he wasn’t his first choice — and it’s undoubtedly given rise to rumors that Everton will launch a bid for Gameiro when the transfer window reopens in January.

But there’s a long way to go between now and then. The “if you have him, you may as well use him” philosophy is the main reason why Vietto has featured so often over the season’s first six weeks — and by extension, it is a reason why Atlético have scored just five goals in the past five league contests. The situation has to be the same for Gameiro as Atlético look for a solution to these recent attacking woes.

What do you think? Does Gameiro deserve more playing time? Sound off in the comments!