Janet Jackson probably wasn’t referring to Atlético Madrid and Koke when she sang “Got Til It’s Gone”, but her words are relevant nonetheless. When it comes to Atlético’s No.6, you really don’t appreciate what you’ve got until he’s unavailable.
A thigh injury suffered during the week ruled the Spaniard out of Saturday’s short trip to Leganés and he was missed badly. Saúl and Rodri formed the double pivot and Leganés pinned them back — the only player in the home team’s half with the ability to zip, chip, whip and clip a pass through the defensive line was Antoine Griezmann, and the Frenchman couldn’t do it all alone.
It was refreshing to see natural wingers like Gelson, Ángel Correa and Thomas Lemar drive at defenders and attack the back line, but Koke’s precision was lacking. The talents of the man from Vallecas were more noticeable in this game than in some of the ones where he actually is on the pitch.
As MARCA’s Alberto R. Barbero wrote in his match report: “Atlético sometimes play badly with Koke, but they never play well without Koke.”
The numbers back this up — it’s not just a sensation. Koke missed eight matches across the 2017/18 campaign. Of those eight, there were four wins (two of which came against lowly Lleida in the Copa del Rey, when Koke was rested) and four draws. Of all the matches he did play, Atleti won 30, drew 12 and lost nine. The win percentage, therefore, rose from 50 percent to 59 percent when Koke featured.
Looking back over the past few seasons — from the start of 2015/16, particularly — there is a similar pattern. Atlético’s win percentage without Koke over that time is 55 percent, with 11 victories from 20 matches. With the canterano, that rises to 62 percent, with 105 wins from the 170 matches he has played.
As well as the Koke-shaped problem against Leganés, there were the two matches against the Azerbaijani team that shall not be named around this time last year. Those matches are a case study in Koke’s importance to Diego Simeone’s side. Koke was out injured for both those encounters, when a 0-0 draw and 1-1 draw decided los colchoneros’ Champions League fate. The striking lack of creativity against Q***bağ showed once again why the 26-year-old is such a key component of the Atleti line-up.
Of course, it’s nothing new to consider Koke a vital player. He has long been one of the stars of the club and he has a €150m release clause to that effect. But perhaps is importance is still underappreciated. It’s not until he spends some time out of the line-up that we see exactly how much he matters to Atlético’s as a whole.