Down to the bare bones, Atlético Madrid showed an intentionality in attack that has been missing this season for long spells. After the thumping they took off Borussia Dortmund in Germany, Atlético wanted to set the record straight and they put in their best performance of the season on Tuesday night at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“We haven’t done too much wrong,” Diego Simeone said before the match, referring to his time in charge of the club. And it’s become a trait of theirs over the years — ust when you write them off as being too defensive, overly cautious, too injured. They punch teams in the mouth and wake both the fans and themselves out of slumber. That was the formula once more against a rising Dortmund side.
With no Koke, Diego Godin or Diego Costa, Simeone picked Lucas Hernández, Thomas Partey and Nikola Kalinić to replace the trio with Lucas stepping inside and Filipe Luís at left back. It was a patched-together side which became even more untested when Francisco Montero was brought on at the break for José Gimenez, who has retired three times this season due to injury.
The match started with high pressing up the field and Ángel Correa on the right looking to exploit Achraf Hakimi — the source of plenty of problems two weeks ago in North Rhine-Westphalia. Correa was booked early on for a little teaser as to what Achraf could expect if he got notions of being an attacking threat again.
If Saúl was reprimanded for his comment about Atlético being unambitious after Saturday’s Leganés draw, he showed plenty of it himself on Tuesday night and got the first goal for Atlético on 33 minutes after sustained pressure. He won the ball in the middle, slid it out to Filipe and continued his run before he struck home from the Brazilian’s smart pull-back.
Dortmund were stunned by Atlético’s pressing and struggled with this new facet of their play. Kalinic led the line along with Correa and Griezmann, they buzzed toward the ball and never let Dortmund get a foothold in the game.
BVB had their best chance in the second half when Paco Alcácer stole in after Montero slipped. His cross was hard and onto the head of Raphaël Guerreiro, who scored a brace a fortnight ago, but he couldn’t keep this header down. Atlético dodged a bullet and couldn’t get to grips as the Bundesliga leaders grew a bit more comfortable.
That spell didn’t last long though, and the visitos didn’t have any more chances. It was Atlético who started to look more likely — and that happened after 80 minutes.
A swift counter-attacking move saw Gelson Martins free Thomas down the left, only for the Ghanaian to poke into Griezmann’s path. He took his time, stayed upright after a nudge in the back, waited some more, and as soon as Burki went down to his left Atlético’s captain slotted to his right.
It would stay that way with the Wanda Metropolitano singing the mattress makers out as an encore. The doubts that crept in were sent back out the door after what was the rojiblancos’ best performance of the season — even more so when you consider they did it with so many injuries.
Atlético are back at home this weekend with Athletic Club playing their second game away from home on the trot. If Atlético do end up winning trophies this year, you might look back at Tuesday night at the Wanda as a turning point — for confidence as much as anything tactically. But regardless of anything that happens in the future, the hosts never looked like losing this one.