Antoine Griezmann did it again, as the Frenchman’s diving header six minutes from time handed Atlético Madrid a big win at relegation-threatened Granada on Saturday night.
Atlético started sluggishly at Los Cármenes and Granada took the initiative in the opening 45 minutes. But Atleti improved as the match moved along and finally beat Memo Ochoa through Griezmann’s heroics to secure three important points - made even more important after Sevilla dropped points at home against Leganés earlier on Saturday.
Midweek saw Kévin Gameiro’s name added to Atlético’s injury list. The French forward left training on Wednesday with an abdominal problem and was not in the squad to face Granada. He joined Gabi (hand surgery) and Fernando Torres (head) in sitting this one out, and Diego Simeone opted to pair Griezmann with Yannick Carrasco up top. Thomas Partey replaced Gabi in central midfield, Nico Gaitán was handed a rare start and Juanfran replaced Šime Vrsaljko at right back for his first appearance in a month.
The first half saw a very competitive and nearly even - if not poorly played - game take shape. Atlético were guilty of straying offside a few too many times, as this eagerness negated a Carrasco goal and stopped Griezmann from going 1v1 against Ochoa. As the half reached its conclusion, Granada applied some pressure through midfield, where Mubarak Wakaso and Uche were able to roam about and create opportunities. Jan Oblak made a couple important saves, however, and the sides went to their dressing rooms without a goal to celebrate.
The second half saw a change in system for Atlético. Thomas came off at half time in a surprise move (he played well and ended a few of Granada’s brighter moments) for Ángel Correa, which allowed Simeone to switch his team to a 4-3-3. This opened up play substantially, particularly for Carrasco, who blazed around the final third in search of a killer goal but found his efforts thwarted by a wanting shot and an inspired Ochoa. But Granada had chances as well, and on the hour Simeone took off Gaitán and threw on José Giménez to regain control.
This tactic worked - even as it may have been unnecessary, seeing as Thomas had started the match and did fine. Atlético pretty clearly forged ahead and took back the midfield after Giménez’ introduction and finally found a goal in the 84th minute.
Koke took a short corner and received the ball back from Filipe Luís (who was fantastic on the night). He then whipped in a cross for an onrushing and unmarked Griezmann, and the talisman hit bullseye from a diving header to give Atlético a deserved lead.
In stoppage time, Stefan Savić had to leave the pitch to receive treatment for a bloody nose, but he finished out the game. Wakaso was sent off in the final seconds for a foul on Griezmann which he then - unwisely - protested (Granada play Sporting Gijón next week in a massive six-pointer).
Atlético needed a few minutes (more like 45) to get going against one of LaLiga’s worst teams - a team that lost 7-1 at the Calderón in October - but fully deserved the three points upon the final whistle. Atleti have not lost away since Dec. 12, and Griezmann’s winner is his 12th goal in 18 games since the calendar turned to 2017 (and since he grew out his hair like Diego Forlán). This result ensures los colchoneros will stay in fourth place regardless of what happens in Real Sociedad’s game with Athletic Club on Sunday, and Sevilla will come to the Calderón next Sunday just five points clear in third place. In the interim, however, Atleti will look to seal a place in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday against Bayer Leverkusen.