With Koke, you don’t know what you’ve got until he’s gone.
It is often hard to specify what the 28-year-old brings to the table, since it’s a little bit of everything. You gain leadership with Koke. You gain energy with Koke. You gain passing with Koke. You gain defensive contributions with Koke. You gain set piece delivery with Koke. You sometimes, on rare occasions, even gain headed goals with Koke.
Most important of all, though, you gain victories with Koke.
There is one stat above all that highlights Koke’s importance to the side. When he has played this season, Atlético Madrid have gained an average of 1.86 points per game — calculated by also attributing three, one or zero points to cup matches — and when he hasn’t played they’ve earned exactly one point per game. That all comes together for the average of 1.69 points per game for Atlético’s entire 2019/20 campaign, but it’s quite a remarkable difference.
This is a stat that isn’t mentioned much, but it goes some way to showing the players who have the greatest impact on the final results — even if they don’t necessarily always contribute with goals or assists or saves. There are only two other first-team squad members with a higher average points per game than Koke this season — José María Giménez with 1.93 and Kieran Trippier with 1.87. Again, these are two players who we know make an impact even if they don’t always do so in box score fashion.
It is little wonder why Diego Simeone has labelled Koke as “fundamental” so many times. It’s maybe the adjective he has used the most to describe the academy graduate, but it’s true. Koke is fundamental to what Atlético want to do. When he’s not there, Los Rojiblancos lose so much.
Koke is not Atlético’s best player, but he is their most important player tactically. So many teams have somebody who fits this description — like Casemiro at Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets at Barcelona or Dani Parejo at Valencia. In these other instances, we’re talking about a holding midfielder and it makes sense for the anchor of the team to be the main tactical focal point.
Koke, though, doesn’t always play in the middle. And by and large, he remains such an impactful player. This season, he has played about 50 percent of the time on the right of midfield, about 25 percent in the centre and about 25 percent of the left. Yet he has been vital no matter where he has played. He has consistently been the axis on which this team turns, even when he has been out wide.
Take him out and Simeone’s jenga tower collapses. Take him out, and you collect 0.86 fewer points per game.