Something phenomenal happened at around quarter to five on Sunday afternoon. A ball hit a net and 60,000 people inside Estadio Wanda Metropolitano simultaneously had the exact same thought.
“Goooooaaaaalllll… or is there VAR?”
Álvaro Morata was one of the 60,000 and with good reason. Since joining Atlético Madrid he’d celebrated goals against his former clubs Real Madrid and Juventus, yet video technology had intervened both times to deny him those sweet moments and to leave his rojiblanco account penniless. This time there was no foul, no offside, no nothing, but he couldn’t have been sure until he looked around and saw Villarreal players wandering back to the halfway line.
Finally, the 26-year-old was up and running in his boyhood team’s colours — and he was thrilled. This time the smile wouldn’t be wiped off his face and he even joked about his previous run-ins with VAR, putting a finger to his ear as if he was waiting for a “this just in” reversal of the strike.
As well as taking three points away from a Villarreal fixture for the first time since 2015, Sunday’s other big takeaway for Atlético was that Morata is happy and in good form. His derbi and Champions League goals may not have counted, just as the penalty he could have potentially won at Real Betis wasn’t given, but the Spaniard has extracted confidence from those superb yet ultimately fruitless finishes against the Blancos and the Bianconeri. When the ball was dropping towards him in the first half against the Yellow Submarine, there was no hesitation and there was no way he was leaving it for the incoming Saúl. Morata knew he could finish and he did.
Morata has always been a player who goes through goalscoring peaks and troughs. There are few strikers in Europe who rely on confidence as much as he does. In his career he has had runs of scoring 10 in 10, and also quarter-year goal droughts.
“This is where I want to be and I am very happy,” Morata said after Sunday’s victory. “I try to help the team and I’m happy that the fans are with me. I’ll give my all for this shirt. I also need to thank the coach and my teammates as I’m happy about the way I’ve been welcomed in. I needed a group like this, a coach like this and a team that trusted me.”
While there will always be some fans who can’t forgive the Spaniard for his Real Madrid past, most were willing to see past that and most already have done so as they’ve been impressed with Morata’s work ethic. Not only has he been putting the ball in the back of the net, but he has been chasing down balls and putting in maximum effort. On Sunday, he even played through shoulder pain and a fever, so keen is he to take part in this Atleti project.
Morata is happy and confident — and this can only be good news for Diego Simeone.