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Atlético Madrid 3-1 Elche CF: Two Suárez goals deliver three points

Luis Suárez provided just what Simeone’s rojiblanco stew has been missing.

Atletico de Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The first one was hit so delicately, you wouldn’t have been faulted for thinking he missed the ball entirely.

Forty minutes had passed for Atlético Madrid against Elche on Saturday afternoon, and the game remained goalless. Atlético had come out in the familiar 4-4-2, as Diego Simeone started all of Mario Hermoso, Renan Lodi, and Yannick Carrasco. Atleti had rung up just 0.16 expected goals to this point in the contest with one shot attempt from inside the 18-yard box. Bar a Marcos Llorente snapshot from a clever free kick routine, Edgar Badia hadn’t been too troubled.

That is, until Antonio Barragán misplaced a pass around the halfway line. Lodi intercepted it, and the colchoneros broke the other way. Within 12 seconds, Kieran Trippier was in space on the right-hand side, ready to deliver a stinging low cross to Luis Suárez. The 33-year-old timed his run perfectly and ever-so-gently clipped the ball past Badia to break the deadlock before halftime.

The second one was a sharp sliding finish that tied him with two other players atop LaLiga’s scoring chart.

Los Rojiblancos picked up where they left off after halftime. Suárez and Carrasco had just played a one-two in the box, and Carrasco lashed the shot wide of the far post. Now, it was time for him to set up a chance for Luis.

Watch how quickly it developed.

Carrasco’s cross left the defender Miño isolated against Suárez — who read the passage of play expertly and timed his run precisely to match it.

Suárez departed with Atlético leading 2-1 after a Lucas Boyé header cut the lead in half. With 10 minutes to go, replacement Diego Costa — playing, amazingly, three weeks after developing a deep vein thrombosis in his leg — buried a penalty that he won himself to seal the deal.

The win is Atlético’s ninth from 12 league games, and Simeone’s men will remain top of LaLiga through the weekend.

“I didn’t say anything with Luis that I didn’t feel, he played three games in a row last week when he was coming off a 20-day break,” Simeone said after the win. “Today I was especially happy for the second goal, waiting so that he wouldn’t go offside and he would be found after a good pass from Carrasco.”

Suárez has scored seven goals from 11 shots on target in league play this season. Álvaro Morata scored 12 times from 27 attempts on target last season and would not have taken either chance his replacement took Saturday.

Atletico de Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Though Atlético began this match in a 4-4-2, the formation effectively became a 4-3-3 with Koke behind advanced playmakers João Félix and Thomas Lemar. Carrasco and Llorente flanked Suárez along the forward line. We’ve also seen the team play a 3-4-1-2 formation this season and look awfully good doing it.

Atleti’s general play has evolved, with Hermoso, Llorente, and Félix among those taking a step forward in their second season. But Suárez’s September arrival put the team’s larger stylistic shift into action — and now, he’s getting back to normal following his COVID-mandated isolation.

Earlier this week, Simeone’s former assistant Mono Burgos declared Atlético favorites for LaLiga. In response, Simeone told the press on Friday he had not spoken to Burgos lately, even going so far as to say he changed his phone number. But there is no doubt Atleti are in the title conversation — if El Pistolero is back in form and Cholo’s men maintain game-by-game regularidad, this could be a title race to remember.

ATM XI Oblak; Trippier, Savić, Hermoso, Lodi; Koke (Felipe 87’), Llorente, Lemar (Correa 66’), Carrasco (Saúl 66’); Félix (Costa 73’), Suárez (Kondogbia 74’).

Goals Suárez 41’ 58’ Costa 80’ (pen.)

ELC XI Badia; Barragán, Verdú, Donald (Rigoni 46’), Josema; Marcone; Raúl Guti (Nino 81’), Fidel, Josan (Miño 46’), Morente; Boyé.

Goal Boyé 64’