Atlético Madrid put a premium on a fast start.
After Atlético wheezed to the finish line at Valladolid, Saúl Ñíguez criticized his team’s approach, insisting that his teammates — and by extension, his coach — had to take the first half as seriously as the second.
Well, we saw the response in the first half against Valencia Saturday. Atlético took 11 shots from 56 percent possession, with a few solid chances and a deserved penalty which Diego Costa put away on 36 minutes. Coincidentally enough, the best chance went to Saúl prior to the VAR-approved penalty, when Costa laid off for him to place a right-footed shot just wide of Jasper Cillessen.
Atlético Madrid ended the match in disastrous fashion anyway.
Dani Parejo snapped Atleti’s run of 650 minutes without conceding thanks to his wonderful 82nd minute free kick. It had been coming, too.
Simeone’s men had ceded possession and the coach threw on another central midfielder (Marcos Llorente) to try to lock up the match. But alas, João Félix sent Santiago Arias clean through only for the Colombian to hesitate and see his attempt cleared off the line. Félix was injured on the ensuing counterattack and limped off, barely able to put weight on his right ankle. As Simeone had used up his subs, the Rojiblancos numbered only 10. Five minutes later, Parejo equalized.
It was a calamitous, easily-avoidable turn of events in the capital. Cholo’s substitutes — Lemar, Lodi and Llorente — were all completely ineffective, and it was too late when Kang-In Lee’s 90th minute red card evened up the numbers.
Álvaro Morata needs a more ruthless streak...
...though that doesn’t mean the former Chelsea forward hasn’t done anything noteworthy. Morata’s slippery movement drew four yellow cards at Valladolid two weeks ago, and on Saturday he provoked the penalty when his attempted delivery into the box was batted away by Denis Cheryshev’s right arm.
But Simeone hooked Morata on 68 minutes in part because he lacked real decisiveness, a quality that has eluded him at different points in his career. Only one of Morata’s four shots was on target and he has struggled to find chemistry with Costa and Félix. Simeone is insistent on making this trio work, but so far it hasn’t and what it has done is inhibit the best characteristics of each player in it. In Morata’s case, it is so far preventing him from developing into a more complete forward.