Atlético Madrid snapped a three-game winless streak Wednesday, as they took three points at Mallorca for the first time since 2011. Diego Costa (header) and João Felix (a deflected close range shot) got the goals in Palma, where Diego Simeone rotated a bit more in what was a positive performance overall. Also, it was the Argentine’s first victory over this particular opponent.
A few thoughts on the match below.
Mario Hermoso has a lot of work ahead of him.
The competition for José Giménez’s partner in central defense is technically up for grabs, and the Uruguayan was rested Wednesday. Hermoso looked uneasy in his two starts and has not appeared since the Sept. 1 win over Eibar. It seemed like a matchup with Mallorca would be a good opportunity for him to garner minutes and confidence.
Instead, Stefan Savić returned to the XI and Felipe Monteiro made his second consecutive start. The Brazilian’s two starts have seen Atlético keep as many clean sheets, while the veteran Savić has performed well and assumed a real leadership role throughout the season’s first month after a rough 2018/19. Neither was fazed by the really high line Simeone played in the first half, either.
Hermoso was a €25 million arrival in the summer after he helped steer the Catalan side to the Europa League’s qualifying rounds. Though the ex-Espanyol defender has carved out some space in the national side, he’s fallen farther behind the pecking order at club level.
A word on Santiago Arias, too — he looked great. The Colombian has been given a somewhat raw deal since he arrived last summer — Simeone preferred the aging Juanfran to him in important matches, while the club then bought Kieran Trippier ostensibly to be the new first-choice right back. But in Arias’ season debut, he created two first half chances, hit the post and made a big goal-line clearance from a Takefusa Kubo shot.
The set piece goals are back with a vengeance.
Atlético controlled the first half and at one point had over 70 percent possession. Costa’s first goal of the season was the exclamation point the half needed. After a clearance bounced Koke’s corner out of the box, the captain flung the ball back in and Costa snuck between two defenders to thump Atleti into the lead.
On 65 minutes, Koke played a free kick short to Thomas Partey and eventually received the ball back to cross. Another failed clearance landed near João Félix, who switched from his right foot to his left, and cracked a shot off Mallorca forward Ante Budimir which rolled in off the post.
(By the way, I think this was Félix’s best match since the season started. He took five touches in the 18-yard box, stayed aggressive with five shots and saw a boost in touches.)
The set piece danger has been a delightful development from the past week-plus. Atlético rallied against Juventus with two goals from dead-ball situations. Felipe and Félix had Atleti’s two best chances in the draw versus Celta Vigo — from a free kick and a corner, respectively. I’m not outright saying there’s a connection, but Simeone’s best teams — i.e. the 2014 league winners — were lethal when afforded these opportunities.
Atlético’s professionalism remains an issue.
Álvaro Morata entered for Costa in the 69th minute. Five minutes later, Mallorca captain Xisco Campos tried to slew foot him while fighting for a ball in the air. Morata went down grabbing his leg and Campos wasn’t booked.
Campos then attempted to intercept a Félix through ball, but his slide caught Morata’s ankle. The Spain international saw red — literally and figuratively — from Hernández Hernández for dissent, barking at Campos AND midfielder Salva Sevilla all the way off the pitch.
Morata was still heated after the match and Diego Costa reportedly had to restrain him at one point. Of course, last weekend, Costa was booked for dissent at full time against Celta. And last season...oh, last season.
Simeone’s Atlético sides have never been squeaky clean and relish living dangerously — even the coach himself has had a few infamous blowups. But these are frankly childish antics that hurt the team in 2018/19 and have repeated themselves already in 2019/20.
Barring a successful appeal, Morata will miss Saturday’s derbi against Real Madrid. That’s a big blow for Cholo, who continues to wait for the moment where he can play Morata, Costa and João Félix together from kickoff.