Despite interest from RB Leipzig over the summer, Atlético chose to keep Lemar rather than send him out on loan or sell him. The decision was not an overly-popular one — after an inconclusive debut season as a rojiblanco, Lemar’s 2019/20 campaign had been disastrous. It was expected that he would make way after a season in which he made just 10 league starts while failing to register a goal or an assist in any competition.
Fast-forward to January 2021. This Thomas Lemar is almost unrecognizable from the one Diego Simeone struggled to incorporate for two years.
“It has taken me a long time to adapt to Atlético’s system and style of play,” Lemar said in an interview with France Football. “Now that I understand everything better, things have improved for me.
“I feel like I have (Atlético’s) DNA in me,” the 25-year-old continued. “I have the desire to fight for every ball, to be a conqueror, to always want to win, to always be under pressure (to win), to always compete in duels, to always play on the attack. This is Atlético.”
Lemar, a World Cup winner less than three years ago, admitted the coronavirus hiatus forced him to work harder and smarter.
“Quarantine allowed me to regain my form,” Lemar said. “I have worked a lot on my weaknesses. I wanted to focus on my work in order to play again, to have more fun, to return to form and play for Atlético. It depended on me — I couldn’t blame anyone. I was the one on the field.”
Lemar’s relationship with Simeone was questioned last season, but player and coach are now firmly in sync. Lemar has started Atlético’s past seven league games — all wins — and has found a home in Cholo’s 3-5-2, thriving in a pocket of space to Koke’s left and behind the forwards. He is one of LaLiga’s most lethal dribblers, with better than two completed per 90 minutes at a nearly 92 percent success rate. And, he provided his first assist of the league season on Sunday — a corner kick to the back post that João Félix stuck past Jaume Doménech to equalize in an eventual 3-1 win over Valencia.
“I have spoken a lot with (Simeone),” Lemar said. “He asked me what we could do to improve my situation. He listened to me, and I listened to him.
“I wanted to rediscover my style, my way of playing,” he continued. “This change to the middle allows me to play more freely, to be more involved in each phase of the game. I can go left or right, keep the ball and touch it more often, instead of once every 15 minutes on one side.”
Lemar is one of several rojiblancos who has seen his game skyrocket under Simeone this season, but his development has been particularly surprising given where he was just a few months ago. He has rediscovered the creativity and dynamism he displayed at Monaco, and his comfort and confidence on the pitch are evident. Lemar’s almost been like a new signing, such is his improved level, and Simeone has made sure to reward him as first-place Atlético march on in LaLiga.