Kévin Gameiro came off the bench to record the fastest Liga Santander hat trick in more than 20 years, which in turn carried Atlético Madrid to a 4-1 victory over relegation candidates Sporting Gijón on Saturday afternoon.
Gameiro entered the game just after the hour for Fernando Torres, but his impact was felt most inside the final 10 minutes, when he registered a hat trick in 4:44, the quickest time in a LaLiga match since 1995. The trio of goals made comfortable what had been a very difficult game for Atlético, which earned its first win at El Molinón since 2008.
With the Champions League looming, Diego Simeone chose to rotate comparatively little. Ángel Correa was handed his first league start of 2017 and Šime Vrsaljko stepped into the XI to replace the injured Juanfran. Lucas Hernández and Stefan Savić retained their places as the two center backs with Diego Godín and José Giménez on the mend.
The first half was an intense affair with little good football that was dominated by Sporting. Rubi’s side set up in a 4-5-1, which stifled Atlético’s attacking 4-3-3 and controlled the midfield. Lacina Traore - all 6’8’’ of him - was a handful for Atleti’s defenders, who also struggled to track left winger Burgui’s super runs near the penalty area. Sporting received a handful of corners that went for nought, and the first 45 minutes petered out into a goalless stalemate.
That stalemate would end very quickly in the second half. Immediately off the restart, Gabi played a long ball to Torres, who headed down for a charging Yannick Carrasco. The Belgian’s shot was mostly saved by Iván Cuéllar, but Carrasco fired in from a couple yards to make sure his goal counted. Atlético had the lead.
However, the 1-0 advantage would last only three minutes. Burgui, unmarked, crossed into the box and the ball fell for Sergio Álvarez. The ensuing shot pinballed off Filipe Luís and past a well-positioned Savić into the net to level the scores with essentially an entire second half to play.
Sporting looked set to resume its dominance from the first half and looked the more likely side to go ahead 2-1 until Simeone went to his substitutes. In the 61st minute, El Cholo inserted Gameiro and Saúl Ñíguez for Torres and Correa, and in the 68th minute Carrasco made way for Thomas Partey. With Gabi and Saúl in the middle and Koke and Thomas on the flanks, Atlético’s midfield went from liability to supercharged death machine. Antoine Griezmann had a goal wrongly ruled out 15 minutes from time, but that moment made it clear that Atleti had steered the game where it needed to be.
At 79:34, the French Connection would link up to restore the lead. Griezmann slipped through a sensational pass to Gameiro, who rounded Cuéllar to finish expertly with his left foot. That goal likely would have been enough to seal the three points, but Gameiro was not close to done yet. At 80:53, Gameiro scored his second with the right foot after Thomas knocked down a pass intended for Sporting center back Fernando Amorebieta and the ball pinged straight into the Frenchman’s path. Finally, at 84:18, Gameiro latched onto a pinpoint Griezmann long ball, and with the flag down, coolly completed his hat trick with a clean right-footed strike. With that, Sporting had been opened up and put to the sword, and Atlético saw out the win from there.
The hat trick put a fair helping of gloss onto what had been a nearly 80-minute struggle for los colchoneros, but the three points nonetheless extended Atleti’s unbeaten run in LaLiga to eight games. Gameiro and Griezmann are now tied for fifth in the Pichichi race with nine goals apiece, and Griezmann is on six assists, which gives him the third-highest total in the league. Atleti will fly to Germany on Monday secure in the knowledge that fourth place remains in safe hands for another week, as the Champions League shoots again to the forefront.