Atlético Madrid put themselves in an enviable position in their Europa League last 16 tie against Lokomotiv Moscow on Thursday night thanks to goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Diego Costa along with a late Koke strike that just might have sealed the tie.
Diego Simeone was forced to start Axel Werner in goal for the first time in a competitive fixture after Jan Oblak pulled out with a groin injury and Diego Godín was also unable to play due to gastroenteritis. As such, Atlético looked very young through the middle of the side.
They did not disappoint though and it was one of the younger players on the team, Saúl, who struck the first blow to Moscow’s hopes. His left-footed effort from downtown after 22 minutes livened up the Wanda Metropolitano and was just reward for the home side’s dominance to start the game.
Atlético continued to push for more goals but they did not come in that first half, although Antoine Griezmann came close after stripping Guilherme with the ball at his feet.
Just two minutes into the second half, Atlético had their second and a cushion in the tie. A cross came in from the left, which Griezmann took down — his curled effort was stopped by Guilherme but Costa was on hand to turn the ball home.
Koke slotted a lovely Juanfran cross home as normal time expired and Simeone’s celebrations said it all as the tie appears to be all but wrapped up. Given the form Atlético are in, it would be hard to see them not scoring in Moscow, meaning the Russians would have to score five if they want to progress.
Simeone had the good fortune of resting Griezmann and Costa late on with Vitolo and Kévin Gameiro replacing them. Celta Vigo lay on the horizon with LaLiga as good as gone but not forgotten.