As the clock was ticking down at El Molinón on Saturday, up stepped Kevin Gameiro. The French international has endured less than a stellar debut year in Atleti colours, but his contribution at the weekend was an example of his goal scoring talent. This is the Gameiro that Atletico thought they were getting when they forked out €32m for his services last summer.
Yannick Carrasco had put Atletico in front, right at the beginning of the second half before a messy equaliser by Sporting’s Sergio minutes later levelled things up. Atleti pressed for their second goal but it almost looked as if they had run out of ideas. Koke was getting visibly frustrated with his teammates sloppiness, an emotion which echoed the Spanish international’s fan base feelings. Sporting were proving to be difficult to break down. With 10 minutes remaining of normal time, however, a slick Atletico move was finished off by Gameiro as he rounded the keeper to tap homeand put his side 2-1 in front. The seemingly psychic connection between the French duo of Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann was once again on show, as a deft touch by Griezmann set up the finish. It was 2-1 Atleti, but there was still more to come.
Thomas Partey’s quick pressing and physical presence led to Gameiro pouncing on a defensive mistake for his second in as many minutes before he smashed home his hat-trick on the 85th minute mark. For Atletico, it was a nervy affair which turned into a comfortable win. For Gameiro, it was something much bigger.
With the Champions League second round first leg tie against Bayer Leverkusen coming up in the week, Gameiro had to do something special to contend for a starting spot. Griezmann was always going to play. And if Diego Simeone opted for a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 it seemed as if Gameiro was going to be on the outside looking in. Even Fernando Torres was putting up a case to start after 3 goals in 2 games before the Gijon encounter. For Gameiro, the hat-trick at the weekend should be enough to give Simeone a welcome selection headache.
The Atleti faithful have had to wait a while for a domestic input from the multi-million euro man purchased from Sevilla. He hadn’t scored in the league since a 3-0 victory over Osasuna in late November, and the three goals in Gijon pushes his total to just 9 for the season. Add in a sole Champions League goal and 2 in the Copa del Rey, the Frenchman has failed to justify his hefty price tag. The struggles of Griezmann earlier on in the year did nothing to help the pressure heaped on Gameiro, but nonetheless there’s little arguing the lack of impact he has had this year.
The contest with Leverkusen offers Simeone the chance to give his new attacker an opportunity to thrive on his momentum. Scoring the winner would have been enough to satisfy Gameiro, but turning it into a hat-trick will certainly have the striker raring to go for his next outing. Against a vulnerable defense (Bayer have the second worst defensive record in the top ten of the Bundesliga), Gameiro will be licking his lips in anticipation of adding to his goal tally. It now comes down to whether Simeone is willing to give him the chance he deserves.