The number in days of Diego Costa’s goal drought, which he snapped after 39 minutes on the pitch at San Mamés. I had a feeling Costa’s form would be decisive over this frantic sprint to LaLiga’s finish line — he had been reported as being in tiptop shape and, of course, has had his coach’s backing. The former Spain international had botched several opportunities this season, but a 69 degree afternoon in Bilbao was the setting in which he came good. Saúl intercepted a Yeray pass before Koke delivered a quick, pinpoint through ball for Costa to (very) calmly roll beyond Unai Simón.
Atlético Madrid’s league-high draw total. This stalemate at Athletic Club also ties the club record for draws in a season, set on four different occasions (most recently in 2005/06). Platinum-blonde Yannick Carrasco and former outcast Santiago Arias missed grade-B chances on either side of halftime — at least the latter forced Unai Simón into a good save.
Atlético failed to take full advantage of Granada’s surprise win over Getafe and remain stuck on a paltry three wins away from home. It’s hard to win many games with just two shots on target, and it’s harder to win after falling behind (even to as good a goal as Iker Muniain’s). Los Colchoneros could fall a full three points out of the Champions League places if Real Sociedad beat Osasuna on Sunday night.
The substitutions now allowed in LaLiga following this lengthy layoff. Diego Simeone utilized the new rule to full effect on Sunday, though his selections did not impress.
Without potential gamebreaker João Félix, the Argentine turned to Thomas Lemar, who completed several tame passes even as Atlético began to push more aggressively after the hour. Ángel Correa was sloppy and sluggish, perhaps still shaking off the muscular malady he suffered two weeks ago. Álvaro Morata was invisible. Héctor Herrera arguably was the best of the bunch but played just 12 minutes.
I questioned Marcos Llorente’s removal, as he had been one of Atlético’s brightest players on the day, allowing the team to morph into a 4-2-3-1 and even a 4-3-3 as he continues to experiment with his newfound versatility. His 11th minute diagonal ball to Carrasco could have resulted in an early goal.
Speaking of experimentation — I think we need to see a Sergio Camello or Roro Riquelme appearance soon. Not necessarily a start, just 20 minutes or so here and there. Both players made the squad again but Simeone remains reluctant to give them opportunities, preferring to stick with players who have underachieved for the balance of the season. It’s just about time to take risks with younger legs and freewheeling attitudes.
Of course, Cholo is known for his caution. But in such an unusual season — and with games no more than four days apart the rest of the way — the coach has to take a gamble or two, if for no other reason than to prevent a spate of muscular injuries to more prominent players. The payoff beyond that could help the team secure Champions League football again.