ATM XI: Oblak, Juanfran, Giménez, Godín, Filipe Luís, Thomas (Vitolo 60’), Saúl, Koke, Correa, Diego Costa (Fernando Torres 73’), Griezmann (Gameiro 73’).
LEG XI: Cuellar, Bustinza, Mantocani, Muñoz, Rico (Amrabat 47’), Gabriel (Mozo 47’), Gumbau, Omar, Eraso (Naranjo 57’), Garcia, Guerrero.
In an unusual midweek match, Atlético Madrid took on Leganés at the Wanda Metropolitano — a side that has yet to win in February. Diego Simeone took this match as an opportunity to rest a couple players, Šime Vrsaljko and Gabi in particular, the former having played a lot of football in the new year. Saúl Ñíguez nearly gave the hosts a perfect start with a shot from range after Atlético started strongly. However, Leganés showed they were not to be taken lightly in the 10th minute, when Javi Eraso was played in with a brilliant ball over the top of Atleti’s back line.
From a tactical perspective, Atlético operated with a fluid frontline. Diego Costa played through the left channel, Ángel Correa played to his right and Antoine Griezmann operated across the frontline, as well as dropping deeper to pick up the ball. The midfield worked as a three, with Saúl and Thomas Partey generally more central and Koke operating in a freer role, taking up positions in the middle and on the left. (When Vitolo entered for Thomas on the hour, Koke stayed central, and Vitolo acted as a traditional winger on the left.)
Correa, though, showed his skill 15 minutes in when his pace and close control won Atlético a free kick just outside Leganés’ area. Griezmann smashed his attempt off the bar in what was Atleti’s best chance at that stage. For a side on such poor form, Leganés were no slouches, as on 22 minutes they responded to Griezmann’s woodwork effort with one of their own which nearly ended up in Jan Oblak’s net.
But it was the Frenchman who would be smiling, as just three minutes later he put los rojiblancos ahead after taking up a sensational through-ball from Koke and slotting home. Then, 10 minutes later, Griezmann scored his fifth (!!!!!) goal in two games when his second attempt at a dangerous free kick ended up in Pichu Cuéllar’s net, curling it to the keeper’s right. Grizi celebrated by embracing Atleti’s benched captain Gabi in a lovely moment. The Frenchman nearly got his hat-trick minutes after his second, when again he found himself one-on-one with Cuéllar, who stopped him this time.
Atlético went into halftime with a comfortable two-goal advantage and forced the visitors into making a double change at halftime, and in particular the move to bring on attacker Nordin Amrabat for left back Diego Rico indicated Asier Garitano’s desire to come back into the match. This allowed for Atleti to maintain control from a possession standpoint and create some good chances, with Costa being more involved in holding up the ball and bringing teammates in.
And then it was solidified that Thursday night belonged to Antoine Griezmann, when Filipe Luís crossed wonderfully to set up Griezmann, who thumped home a header emphatically on 56 minutes. It got even better when Diego Costa, through some usual hard work, fed an unmarked Griezmann again, who made no mistake for his fourth. For a moment, it seemed Diego Godín had made it five from a Griezmann pas, but the replay showed he was miles offside. The strike force was then given a rest, with Costa and Griezmann replaced by Torres and Gameiro respectively. Costa was visibly annoyed on the bench, but that was likely as a result of missing a one-on-one moments before being taken off, so nothing to worry about.
From that point, Atlético saw out the match out, punctuated by a fantastic Jan Oblak save in injury time to keep the clean sheet. Now, Atleti travel to Barcelona in a game that may well decide how the title race shapes up.
(How about five goals on Sunday, Antoine?)