“We were going through a bad phase, but we knew that our moment would come and it will start now.”
Bold words from João Félix, but why shouldn’t he cut a confident figure? The 20-year-old scored the opening goal as Atlético Madrid cruised to a 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow on Wednesday night. More importantly, it secured a place in the Champions League round of 16 for Atlético after losses in Leverkusen and Turin. Atleti didn’t even need Juventus’ help but got it anyway after the Italian champions beat Bayer Leverkusen by the same scoreline.
- Got to hear Martin Tyler call this one. Always cool.
- Not as cool: Atlético being the only team which hadn’t clinched a place in the last 16.
- Kieran Trippier took a second-minute penalty. I didn’t know why. Diego Simeone explained why.
“Germán (Burgos, the top assistant) always has a list with five penalty takers, and Trippier was the first (name),” he said. “He is the best we have. Of six (attempts), he’ll score at least five.”
This was that sixth time out of six — a rising shot that just didn’t rise enough, which allowed Anton Kochenkov (who was off his line) to parry it off the post and out.
- Still, Atlético showed impressive resolve to keep pushing and caught another break a little more than 10 minutes later — a clear handball by Lokomotiv winger Rifat Zhemaletdinov.
- Félix immediately stepped up and buried the ensuing spot kick, the cherry on top of a tasty 80-minute cake. The kid finished with six shots, two key passes on 92 percent accuracy overall and a touch map awfully reminiscent of a French forward who plays for Barcelona now. The Portuguese won the first penalty and ranks 11th in fouls drawn per 90 minutes among all players with at least 290 minutes (the amount he played during the group stage).
- Thomas Partey was great once again and Atlético really have to get moving on his contract renewal. His €50 million release clause has been there for three transfer windows, Arsenal nearly paid it last summer and someone will pay it next summer.
- Felipe Monteiro has more than overcome some initial skepticism around his signing. The experienced Brazilian has emerged as one of Simeone’s most valuable players in light of the defensive injuries — he’s quick, sturdy, good in the air...
...and he’s got this in his locker.
The somersault alone is worth €8 million.
- Álvaro Morata had a goal ruled out for (marginal) offside. His barren run stands at 472 minutes and Atlético can’t afford to wait much longer for him to find the scoring boots he’s lost. Maybe his twins took them.
- Since moving into A Stadium Called Wanda, Atlético have won seven Champions League home games, drawn two and lost one. The mattress makers have scored 18 and conceded only six times there.
- The Atlético-Juventus draw played out on matchday one was the only such result across the 24 Group D games.
- Lokomotiv looked very much ready for the three-month break the Russian league offers its teams. The visitors hardly turned up and made life pretty easy for a motivated Atleti, which faced few problems against Yuri Semin’s 5-4-1 formation and should have added another goal. The hosts outshot the group’s bottom side 23-3, completed 89 percent of their passes and rang up 68 percent possession. That’s one of the highest marks in Simeone’s eight years as coach.
- Now, for Monday’s draw — the five possible opponents are Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. I would prefer to avoid the English teams, but Los Rojiblancos have to play whoever is put in front of them — the draw is tougher for second-place sides. Liverpool, of course, are the holders. Bayern and City offer battles against Lucas Hernández and Rodri, while a Kylian Mbappé-João Félix matchup would be a definite attention-grabber.