ATM XI: Oblak, Thomas, Lucas, Giménez, Filipe Luís, Koke (Gabi, 63’), Saúl, Augusto (Correa, 58’), Carrasco (Gameiro, 67’), Griezmann, Torres.
ROM XI: Alisson, Peres, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov, Nainggolan, Gonalons (El Shaarawy, 78’), Pellegrini (Strootman, 62’), Gerson (Defrel, 70’), Perotti, Dzeko.
Atlético Madrid’s draws against Qarabag earlier in the group stage were unacceptable, but the team has also had terrible luck in front of goal in this year’s Champions League. One would not have been faulted for believing that string of bad luck would continue against Group C leaders AS Roma, who have been in sensational form both home and abroad.
With the pressure on for Diego Simeone’s men, the boss chose to pair Fernando Torres with Antoine Griezmann in an effort to get both forwards going. Atlético started well — as they had to if they were to have any chance — earning a succession of corners less than ten minutes into the match. One of Atleti’s better chances came from one of those corners, when Lucas Hernández crossed to the six-yard-box looking for Torres, who could not reach the ball for what would have been a tap in.
Another feature of the first half were the numerous fouls, with both sides getting involved in what became a chippy match. Referee Bjorn Kuipers did nothing to help the situation, frequently making the wrong decision, notably when Jose Giménez made a tremendous forward run only to be hacked down by Radja Nainggolan and have the referee blow for a Roma free kick. And just five minutes before halftime, Augusto Fernández scored a goal from outside the box, only to have it waved off for handball. Though the ball did make contact with Augusto’s arm, it did not appear to be intentional.
There were signs of attacking life for Atleti, with Carrasco making strong forward runs, though no goals came of them in the first half. After 20 minutes, Koke had a great header saved by Alisson. Just a couple minutes later, both Koke and Griezmann missed a wonderful low cross put in by Carrasco.
Roma’s chances mostly came on the counter, which is worrying for Atleti, as this is rarely the case. Thomas at right back for the injured Juanfran worked in some instances, but he often left space in behind for Diego Perotti (and his terrible neck tattoo) to run into and cause problems.
After the break, Simeone rung the changes. Ten minutes into the second half, Ángel Correa replaced Augusto, and few minutes later Gabi and Gameiro came on for Koke and Carrasco respectively.
The moment of the match came on 69 minutes, when substitute Correa made his presence felt by providing a wonderfully weighted cross for Griezmann, who slammed home a bicycle kick. It was a sensational goal from a player who certainly has the skill in his locker, but has yet to put his mark on Atlético’s season thus far. Surprisingly, once they got the goal, Atleti did not rest on their lead, and continued to push for more, with Torres having a chance at goal just after Griezmann’s opener.
It was inevitable someone would see red at some stage this match, and it was Roma’s Bruno Peres who got sent off for a second yellow after a poor challenge on Filipe. That will certainly hurt Roma when they return home to face Qarabag, as he is an influential player for them.
Not long after, Atlético found attacking Roma much easier, as this time Griezmann played the role of provider for Kévin Gameiro, who went passed the keeper and calmly slotted home for Atleti’s second. That goal killed off the match and gave Atleti their first win of the group stage.
Now, although this win felt fantastic, qualification odds remain miniscule. Our Azerbaijani frienemies need to do Atleti a favor when they face Roma, and Atleti must once again show their attacking quality when they head to London to face Chelsea. The good news is that Chelsea have already confirmed their place atop the group, so there is nothing for them to play for, and they owe us for giving them all our best players in recent years.