Diego Simeone finally had the chance to put his new, clinical attacking approach on display Tuesday night. For the first time all season, the coach started Diego Costa, João Félix and Álvaro Morata in the same lineup.
Félix has started all nine of Atlético Madrid’s matches this season, but has not gotten the chance to play with both Costa and Morata at the same time from kickoff. Costa has started all seven matches since his return. But as a result of competition, injury and discipline, Morata has only started four of Atletico’s nine games so far. Simeone has at times favored Vitolo, Ángel Correa and Thomas Lemar over Morata.
Félix tracked back for most of the first half and gave Santiago Arias cover on the right. The Colombian played just his second match this season, and he provided a perhaps-surprising level of security at the back (the former PSV full back is recognized as a more attack-focused player).
Arias tied for the team lead in tackles with four and totaled two interceptions and a clearance. He also completed 82 percent of his 50 passes and won five headers in an industrious yet polished performance.
All this led to Félix being given more room to roam and take risks in the second half. The Portuguese was heavily involved in both goals — they were brought about by counterattacks he started himself. He was replaced by defender Mario Hermoso in the 83rd minute after a glimmering second half.
While the three-man forward partnership took the pre-match headlines, Thomas Partey’s second straight man-of-the-match performance certainly overshadowed it in the end.
As Jeremy Beren highlighted in his match report, the Ghanaian midfielder was clinical in attack, his goal rounding out a tremendous overall performance. In the final third, he made . a team-high three key passes and took game-high 99(!) touches.
Thomas showed true box-to-box ability as well with four tackles (tied for the team-high) and three interceptions (second on the team). The 26-year-old also got back to make a clearance and completed a whopping 92.5 percent of his 80 passes.
With Costa, Félix and Morata working together for the first time — and Partey improving every match — Atlético could be starting to rumble, this new team approaching its stride. The defense has kept four consecutive clean sheets but isn’t quite as tight as in years past, while well as Koke and Saul not playing up to their potential. But on Tuesday, the team showed that even without all those important pieces, they can still win handily. Atleti were a cut above Lokomotiv Moscow at RZD Arena and offered another glimpse of their tantalizing potential.