Last season’s final hasn’t even been played yet, but that hasn’t stopped the 2020/21 Copa del Rey — bonkers format and all — from launching forward anyway. Atlético Madrid kicked off with a 3-0 win over Tercera side Cardassar on Wednesday night and will advance to Friday’s second round draw.
CAR XI Sánchez, Soler (Llull 45’), Febrer, Julve, Coll, Roig, Alzamora (Sansó 86’), Javier López, Fernández (Calvo 66’), Hernández (Martínez 66’), Álvarez (Ramis 53’)
ATM XI Grbić; Ricard (Vrsaljko 75’), Felipe, Hermoso, Lodi; Torreira, Kondogbia, Saúl; Lemar (Camello 70’), Vitolo (Šaponjić 69’), Correa (Sanabria 83’)
- Thomas Lemar started the scoring for an Atlético side that had seen 80 percent of the ball after 20 minutes. He put on a couple moves and uncorked a ringing right-footed effort from distance that clattered off the post before it landed beyond diving goalkeeper Ángel Sánchez. It’s his second goal in as many starts — after 46 starts without one.
The Frenchman was never really at risk of being frozen out — that’s not Diego Simeone’s style. But combined with Simeone’s own tactical tweaks that have allowed Lemar a freer role when he starts in attack, he is an example of how the “internal competition” the coach frequently discusses is paying off so far this term.
- “He is a young kid, he is training with us, he almost always plays B-team games. He must improve in each training session to continue progressing. He had to play (Wednesday), he did quite well.”
Those were Simeone’s words for Ricard Sánchez, the right back who lived a dream debut with the first team at Es Moleter. The 20-year-old, formerly of Barcelona’s under-18s, scored a brilliant goal on 42 minutes — a left-footed strike tucked into the netting to the goalkeeper’s right. And before that, he had played the final pass to Lemar for the opening goal.
Ricard has been a regular with Atlético B over the past two seasons. He’s become one of my favorite prospects during this time because of his technical quality and his discipline. There are reasons he began to garner matchday squad consideration last season — he is a talent with a bright future ahead.
- ...Šime Vrsaljko’s return to action makes it less likely we’ll see much more of Ricard. If the Croatian is healthy, he will be Kieran Trippier’s deputy. And he looked pretty healthy Wednesday night.
In his first game back from knee surgery, Vrsaljko scored his first Atlético goal since 2016 (which also took place in a cup game, against Guijuelo).
“(Vrsaljko’s performance) makes us very happy, he is going to give us very important things and hopefully the competition (for places) will intensify for the good of the team,” Simeone said.
- Staying on Croatia watch for a second — a delighted Ivo Grbić made his first start and walked away with a clean sheet.
- Lucas Torreira laid on the assist for Vrsaljko you saw above, and the Uruguayan played 90 minutes for the first time in two months. This will be a key stretch for the on-loan Arsenal pivot, who will look to benefit from the midfield place Héctor Herrera has vacated due to injury.
Brillante partido de Lucas Torreira hoy por Copa del Rey:— Santiago (@SantiSosa22) December 16, 2020
7/8 pases largos
El uruguayo aprovecha sus minutos en Atlético de Madrid. Merece ser titular por Liga. pic.twitter.com/4Jio5lPsGk
“I really liked both of them,” Simeone said of his two central midfielders. “A lot of intensity, ball movement, they covered the width of the pitch. (Geoffrey) Kondogbia attempted good shots, and Lucas made good assists. It helps us, because there will be many more games (this season).”
- Saúl also played the entire game, but had a less-notable impact — aside from a kick to center back Pau Soler’s calf that resulted in a booking. Simeone has expressed confidence in the 26-year-old and hope that he’ll bounce back soon...but Atlético have been winning for nearly three months with Saúl either injured or out of form.
- Awesome moment before kickoff as Atlético Femenino midfielder and Mallorca native Virginia Torrecilla received some recognition. Torrecilla underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in May.
- Los Colchoneros’ win enters them into the second round draw Friday. It will be a 60-team pot, with single games to be played in January ahead of the more-recognizable round of 32.