ATM XI: Oblak, Juanfran (Arias 74’), Godín, Lucas, Filipe Luis, Koke, Saúl, Rodri, Lemar (Correa 58’), Griezmann, Kalinić (Thomas 68’)
BET XI: Pau Lopez, Mandi, Bartra, Sidnei, Junior Firpo, Guardado (Carvalho 17’), Lo Celso, Guerrero (Sanabria 81’), Joaquin (Tello 66’), Canales, Morón
Buoyed by a midweek win over Club Brugge, a shorthanded Atlético Madrid looked to pip a goal-shy Real Betis to top spot in LaLiga (at least temporarily) at the Wanda Metropolitano. The Andalusians have made up for their finishing woes by putting together a strong defensive record.
Atlético’s injuries mounted in the win over Brugge, as Diego Costa and José Giménez suffered muscular injuries. That duo was replaced by Nikola Kalinić and Lucas Hernández, respectively. As most fans know Lucas’ quality at this point, the real point of interest was Kalinić. The Croatian played in the Costa role and interestingly seemed to come short to receive the ball more often than Costa, but it was clear that he and Antoine Griezmann were not on the same wavelength for much of the match.
Simeone went with the traditional four across midfield, with Koke on the right wing and Thomas Lemar on the left. Saúl was the more pressing and attacking midfielder as Rodri shielded the back four. Filipe Luís had the first shot in anger from outside the area that flashed wide. Following that shot, Betis were forced into a very early change as the Portuguese William Carvalho entered for veteran Andrés Guardado. Carvalho is a more defensively-minded midfielder who doesn’t offer Guardado’s spark, but his entry allowed the very talented Giovanni Lo Celso to be able to have a few more wanders up the pitch.
Seven minutes into the second half, Atlético created their best chance of the match when Kalinić turned and lashed a shot off the outside of the post. After Ángel Correa entered, Kalinić had another chance crafted for him by Griezmann but the ex-AC Milan forward saw his shot well-stopped by Pau López.
Thomas Partey then replaced Kalinić, presumably so Correa could join Griezmann in attack. And after Arias came on for Juanfran, Atlético made the breakthrough. From a beautiful Thomas backheel, Correa placed the ball into the bottom left corner of the net from just outside the “D.” Pau couldn’t reach far enough to get a hand on the shot, which rolled in off the post.
As one might expect from Atlético, once they took the lead, they held on for dear life to try to maintain said lead. Atlético conceded good opportunities to Tonny Sanabria and Júnior Firpo but were fortunate that the Betis players could not get their attempts on target. In the end, the home side were able to maintain their advantage and hold onto the three points. Atleti are now top, and will remain top beyond Sunday should Barcelona and Sevilla fail to win.