ATM XI: Oblak, Arias (Kalinic 70’), Giménez, Godín, Saúl, Rodri, Thomas, Koke, Vitolo (Filipe 61’), Correa (Lemar 55’), Morata
EIB XI: Dmitrovic, de Blasis, Oliveira, Álvarez, Ángel, Jordán, Escalante, Orellana (León 77’), Cucurella, Sergi Enrich (Charles 83’), Cardona (Garcia 63’)
As a result of Atlético Madrid’s ever-growing injury list, Diego Simeone was forced to again play a make-shift team with Saúl at left back. Interestingly, Atlético totally overloaded the left side of the pitch when attacking, with Vitolo, Koke and Ángel Correa all popping up on the left at different points — this combined with Álvaro Morata not being able to get too many touches in the box in the first half. Koke was probably the most productive midfielder from an attacking sense and he led the team in tackles as well. Thomas Partey did particularly well alongside Rodri to cut out passing lanes and got a number of interceptions for his hard work.
At halftime, Atlético were behind in shot attempts and had not produced much of their own. Simeone seemed to recognize this and changed the team fairly early on, with Thomas Lemar coming on for Correa, who had not contributed much save for a first-half miss. He also brought on Filipe for Vitolo to free up Saúl. If anything, this made a convoluted midfield and team in general a little harder to work out, with four central midfielders and eventually the dual target man in Morata-Nikola Kalinić.
This match in general was not very easy to watch, with neither team particularly rushed to make the breakthrough. However, Atlético began to make inroads, especially once Partey moved to right back, which allowed Lemar to have a bit more space in midfield.
On 85 minutes Atleti got the goal they had pushed for in the second half, and they combined really well for a team goal scored by Lemar. After a series of headers on the halfway line, the ball fell to Kalinić’s feet, and the big Croatian played a precision pass to Koke who had rushed into the box. Koke was closely marked by two Eibar defenders, and his only option was to play the pass first time into the danger zone for Lemar to finish easily. It was a deserved goal for a player who had been criticized, rightly or wrongly, throughout the year, as a result of his price and a misunderstanding perhaps of the type of player he was. However, if he continues to score goals, the critics will certainly quiet down.
Beyond the goal providers and scorers, a special commendation in an otherwise drab match must go to Rodri, who played 90’ and completed each and every pass he attempted. This was not the result of Rodri not passing the ball, as he had the second most completed passes on the team. With Thomas alongside, Rodri has the freedom to pass more and worry less about defending. This is clearly a benefit, but Rodri is also more than capable of making the vital interception at the right time. And of course, newly-renewed Jan Oblak got another clean sheet as he continues his march to a fourth Zamora Trophy.
Atlético seem to be tightening their hold of second place, and are seemingly trying new tactics, whether by choice or lack of one due to injuries.