The expensive version of something isn’t always the best version. Tap water is often better than bottled water, store-brand items are sometimes tastier than the big-brand equivalents and Vitolo Machín is currently a better option for Atlético Madrid than Thomas Lemar.
The Frenchman is the most expensive signing in the capital club’s history after he arrived from Monaco last summer for a fee of €70 million. But he shouldn’t play just because of the mouth-watering price tag. Following the principle of sunk costs, he should only be in the starting line-up if he is the best option at this current moment in time, and right now that’s not the case.
Lemar hasn’t been bad since he arrived at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, but he hasn’t been good either. Vitolo, on the other hand, has shown more flashes of quality in the past two weeks than Lemar has since the victory in Getafe in September — one of just two matches he has scored in, with the other goal coming in the Copa del Rey second leg against Sant Andreu.
Vitolo was applauded off the pitch during Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Levante as he was substituted with 15 minutes to go after a stunning performance. Fans at the ground saw the Vitolo of old — the dynamic, direct, tough and skillful player who had become a Spain international while at Sevilla and who had performed so well that Atlético paid his €36m release clause in summer 2017. Considering the anger this purchase provoked in the Andalusian capital, this transfer really cost los colchoneros much more than the money that left their bank account, but they felt he was worth it.
Unable to play for his new club straight away due to that pesky transfer ban, Vitolo had to go out on loan to Las Palmas for the first half of last season and injuries completely ruined his time there. He wasn’t quite the same when he returned to Madrid and his body broke down more often than a 10-year-old minibus. The Canary Islander has had six different injuries since he signed for Atleti, but he finally looks to be fit and healthy — he hasn’t had an injury since October.
The 29-year-old’s efforts on the pitch are being recognised now that Diego Simeone has offered him more opportunities — Vitolo has appeared in 12 of his team’s 13 matches since the start of Novmeber, and this is why he needs to be starting more often for los rojiblancos, even if that means Lemar gets left on the bench.
Vitolo does need to improve his end product, just like Lemar, but he looks more confident, more ambitious and more direct when going forward, as he’s created 1.33 open play chances per game compared to his colleague’s 1.07. Vitolo also helps out much more in a defensive sense, with made more interceptions, blocks, clearances and tackles per 90 minutes than the World Cup winner.
It’s time for Vitolo to start and for Lemar to have a moment of pause on the bench. Vitolo is the tasty store-brand chocolate spread, that delicious tap water.