ATM XI: Oblak, Godín, Savic, Filipe, Giménez, Saúl, Thomas, Gaitán, Koke, Griezmann, Correa. Subs: Carrasco for Gaitán (60’), Gabi for Correa (70’), Lucas for Filipe (80’).
ATH: Arrizabalaga, Laporte, Núñez, Balenziaga, Lekue, García, Iturraspe, San José, Muniain, Susaeta, Aduriz.
Ahead of this match, rotation was to be expected given the size of the squad, and there were some key changes made by Diego Simeone. José Giménez started at right back in place of Juanfran. Obviously, it is not Josema’s best position, but he played there at times last season, and is not a huge concern filling in there. Nico Gaitán also started in place of Gabi, so perhaps the era of four central midfielders is over, for now.
The match started with a great pace, Atlético controlled the opening minutes, without creating any spectacular chances. Nico Gaitán did hit the post a little over half an hour in, and was unfortunate not to open his account for the season. Athletic also had their chances in the first half, as Atleti looked somewhat lost at the back.
Of course, the key moment of the first half came on 38 minutes when Filipe Luis was judged to have fouled former Atlético hero Raul Garcia, and conceded a penalty. It was a sloppy touch from Filipe, which forced him to make the challenge, but he clearly won the ball. Aritz Aduriz the ageless wonder stepped up to take the spot kick only to be foiled by a wonderful Jan Oblak save. It was not the best penalty, but Oblak had great reactions away to his left. That makes it two saves from two penalties this season, the first being against Girona on the opening match day.
Atleti went into halftime at 0-0, which was positive since they could have easily been a goal down due to the penalty, as well as Atleti’s concerning lack of goals. Unlike the last two games, there was no obvious change to be made at halftime, as most of the team had performed well in the opening 45.
After the half, Atleti again applied more pressure to Athletic’s backline, and eventually got their reward. On 55’ through some brilliant play by Koke, who found Griezmann, and the ball found Koke again who squared the ball to Correa who swept home an easy finish for his third of the season. It was fabulous interplay between the three, and a fantastic goal to watch. To get a goal so early in the second half would do a lot to settle Atleti nerves, now that they had a lead to protect. Correa had a spectacular game, and fully deserved his goal, as he tracked back and worked his socks off all match long.
On 60’ Nico Gaitán was withdrawn for Yannick Carrasco, a like for like change. Nico did not have a bad game, if unspectacular. Hopefully for his sake it’s a performance he can build on going forward. Just a minute after, Atleti almost doubled their lead when a Koke corner resulted in a Saúl shot that pinballed and found Griezmann who put the ball in the back of the net, but was judged to be offside. It was a very tight decision, and could have gone either way.
Goal scorer Correa was withdrawn for captain Gabi on 71’ after a great performance from the Argentine. Just a minute later, Antoine Griezmann provided a wonderful pass with his back to goal over his right shoulder that found Carrasco, who finished emphatically. The ball hit the post and went in, and was another beauty from Atleti. With Gabi on, anyone with any knowledge of Atleti knew the plan for the rest of the match, to shut up shop and protect their two goal advantage.
Atleti’s final sub would be a forced one on 80’ when Filipe Luis had to be withdrawn with an injury for Lucas. Hopefully Filipe is not out for long, as his presence is crucial in an already slim defensive unit. Lucas also made an immediate impact by winning a goal kick for Atleti after a period of Athletic pressure. Lucas has yet to look out of his depth in any match this season, and will certainly be in contention for a starting place as the season goes on. Athletic did get the ball in the back of the net on 90’ through Iñaki Williams, but he was clearly offside. Garcia did score against his former club, with no celebration in stoppage time, but the match was over at that point.
The match ended at 2-1 to the good guys, after a great performance in which the whole team performed quite well. Two wins on the bounce sets Atleti up well against a tough Sevilla side for the match on Saturday. Hopefully Filipe won’t be out for long, and the side can keep their form going.