Atlético Madrid were poor in the first half but ratcheted up the intensity after halftime to cruise — 5-0 on aggregate — into the Copa del Rey last 16. Here are some notes I took during this match and from the week at large.
- That Rodri and Lemar were needed for this match does not speak well of Simeone’s XI. The team he chose — Koke and Saúl in midfield, Ángel Correa and Gelson Martins among those in attack — had more than enough quality to end this tie comfortably.
- That said, I continue to hope and wish Simeone would select more academy kids — Borja Garcés, Joaquin Muñoz, Victor Mollejo — for these games and that he and Mono Burgos would play them. Toni Moya getting into the team at center back was great to see, but the 20-year-old only lasted until halftime. Francisco Montero played ~35 second half minutes for another academy grad in Lucas Hernández, who has of course become an established member of the side and cut his teeth in matches just like this one.
- Full credit to Sant Andreu. They held out as long as they could and were unlucky to get a goal across two legs, and Elhadji Bandeh’s first half header off the post gave Atlético a proper scare.
- Seems Lemar, like Saúl, scores only golazos. His third goal of the season — his first since September and just three minutes into the second half — came after he took up a Saúl pass and hit a sparkling strike that rattled off the post and in. It left the goalkeeper completely motionless and allowed Atlético to breathe a sigh of relief.
- Why did Saúl play 90 minutes with a big game against Alavés looming on Saturday?
- Great to see Nikola Kalinić get his first goal in red and white on 53 minutes. Santi Arias gave him a great cross and he thumped his header into the top of the net. The Croatian’s trial by fire has well and truly started with Diego Costa gone for at least a month and likely more.
- The anticipation between Lemar and Saúl before the latter slid the ball to Vitolo for the fourth goal (81’)? Great to see. Signifies some long-awaited attacking chemistry in that midfield.
- Correa scored a truly lovely goal on 55 minutes — outside of the boot, from a short corner — as he continues to make his case as Atlético’s best attacker this season. Yeah. I said it. With Antoine Griezmann’s form spotty and Costa out, the Argentine has become invaluable to Simeone and he’s finally producing enough to justify his inclusion. (This doesn’t mean that Griezmann and Costa aren’t still critical pieces.)
- Speaking of Griezmann, allow me a minute to express my thoughts on this week’s Ballon d’Or ceremony.
The Ballon d’Or is inherently a popularity contest. The process by which it is awarded is a source of constant speculation and palace intrigue. Between 2008 and 2017, only two players won the award — though there is little debate that they were the two best players in the world during that time frame.
Griezmann won the World Cup, the Super Cup and the Europa League in a span of 12 weeks. He was decisive in the May and July finals — he was selected Man of the Match both times. The Frenchman’s campaign to win this award was particularly intense, and his club did their best to back him up.
But the fatal flaw was that neither Atlético nor France lit the footballing world alight. Neither consistently dominated their opponents, neither played with a true ruthlessness about them. Luka Modrić’s Croatia lost July’s World Cup final and his Real Madrid were beaten in the following month’s Super Cup — but he won the award by nearly 350 votes over Griezmann anyway.
It didn’t matter that Griezmann’s France won the most important trophy in football, or that his Atleti side won more trophies than their city rivals — the perception that he was central to ugly wins doomed his campaign before it could even get off the ground.