Atlético Madrid’s love for late-game drama emerged again on Sunday, as Thomas Lemar rescued the defending champions with a 99th-minute winner at Espanyol.
After he had seen a goal ruled out for a questionable Luis Suárez offside decision early in the second half, Lemar stepped up to complete Atlético’s comeback deep into the 10 minutes of stoppage time allotted at RCDE Stadium. The French midfielder finished off a tasty give-and-go with Yannick Carrasco — who had lashed in the 79th-minute equalizer — and Diego Simeone was elated, two weeks after a freak 95th-minute own goal handed Atleti a draw versus Villarreal.
“Lemar is in a very good moment,” the coach said after the game. “He had a digestive problem with the national team and lost three to four kilos (seven to nine pounds). So I had doubts (about playing him) and thought about saving him for Wednesday.
“He is the player we went looking for from Monaco, he is the player the team needs,” Simeone continued. “(He has) verticality, he has a strong right foot (as well as his) left, he works hard. He is an important piece who grew a lot last season, even though he was missing goals.”
Atlético overcame a terrible first half to launch second half fireworks, and Simeone talked about the adjustments he made to regain control — including changing the formation at halftime — following Raúl De Tomás’s 40th-minute opener.
“In the second half, we were able to adapt to a 4-3-3,” Simeone said. “The 5-4-1 in the first half did not work for us. If we had been more intense on the ball, we would have grown into the game.”
Cholo elected to start Antoine Griezmann in his first game back, putting him alongside Suárez and Ángel Correa in attack. He liked what he saw, but felt the changes — including hauling off the Frenchman just before the hour — were what the team needed.
“I felt quite good about him in the first half, in a game that wasn’t going well for us,” Simeone said. “Espanyol were better in that first half. In the second half we changed and looked for alternatives to what we saw in the first half. The team had an extraordinary second half.”