ATM XI: Oblak, Trippier, Hermoso (Vitolo 60’), Giménez, Savic, Saúl, Partey (Llorente 70’), Lemar (Felipe 89’), Koke, Félix, Morata
LEG XI: Soriano, Silva, Siovas, Omeruo (Arnáiz 78’), Rosales, Tarín (Bustinza 28’), Pérez, Eraso (Avilés 78’), Mesa, En-Nesyri, Braithwaite
While Butarque had not been a happy hunting ground for Atlético Madrid in recent years, Álvaro Morata enjoyed great personal success against Leganés in his career, with four league goals to his name — the most he’s scored against one opponent in the competition. The big Spaniard again started alongside João Félix in a team that was almost identical to last week’s — the exception being Mario Hermoso coming in for the suspended Renan Lodi.
As a result of Lodi’s suspension, the team shape had to adjust for there not being a traditional left back available. Diego Simeone opted for a three-man defense, and while it initially looked as if Saúl would operate as a left wing back, Thomas Lemar eventually took up that position instead during the first half. Obviously, neither Saúl nor Lemar were particularly suited to that role, but Lemar was probably the better choice.
The first half was unexciting, and neither team had particularly good opportunities. But Morata looked solid up front with two decent shots, at times combining well with Félix. Thomas Partey was perhaps the story of the first half, as he was given the car keys to dictate play at the base of Atlético’s midfield. He did the job fairly well, completing the most passes of any midfielder at an 85 percent clip.
Just five minutes into the second half, Atlético had the game’s best chance to that point when Koke took advantage of a Kenneth Omeruo to set up João Félix, who went for the spectacular scissor kick but sent it over the bar. The youngster had the space to take a touch and maybe make a more sensible decision, but you can’t help but respect the Portuguese’s skill. Shortly after, Leganés had chances of their own, first with a free kick that required saving from Jan Oblak, and then a scramble in the box that again required the Slovene’s attention.
Vitolo entered on the hour and Simeone switched back to a four-man defense, which moved Saúl to left back in a suboptimal situation. Cholo made his second change 10 minutes later as he brought on Marcos Llorente for Thomas Partey, who had been booked.
Moments later, Vitolo took up a central position in the box and was rewarded for his clever movement with a goal. The move started with Kieran Trippier at midfield. The England international played the ball down the line to João Félix, who used some trickery of his own to create space and find Vitolo in the box. The Spaniard took a lovely touch and his left-footed shot slid beyond Juan Soriano. It was a very fluid team move, and for the second week in a row highlighted how Félix and Trippier can influence this team in a positive way.
The final minutes were ropey as Atlético sat back, but Oblak was really secure in goal and did a fine job throughout the match. Los Rojiblancos recorded their second consecutive 1-0 win, but this one was a big one against a bogey team at a ground where Atleti have not had success. Though they scored just the one goal, it was not as boring as the score line may suggest, and there were plenty of encouraging moments in the match — specifically going forward. It may just be a matter of new players beginning to click.