Atlético Madrid have started their 2022/23 with a win, making it four consecutive seasons in which the Colchoneros have got off to a victorious start in LaLiga.
This time, it came in a 3-0 triumph over Getafe that looked routine. Álvaro Morata was the hero with a brace, and Antoine Griezmann appeared with a third goal 15 minutes from time to put the icing on the cake. All three goals arrived courtesy of assists from João Félix, as the Atleti attack tore apart former Atleti coach Quique Sánchez Flores’ defence.
Here are three things learned from the game:
João & Morata are the best double act since Laurel & Hardy
Eight passes changed direction between João Félix and Álvaro Morata at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Only three of them were from the Portuguese international to the Spaniard. Two of those ended up with Morata firing the ball into the back of the net.
This was a continuation of the same system Atlético against Juventus in pre-season, where the duo combined with a lethal impact against the Italians. Against Getafe, they again appeared to connect and understand each other’s movement well.
João will tend to start deeper, coming in from the left and cutting across, whereas Morata will position himself more on the last shoulder starting on the right flank, only cutting over to the left in order to pull defenders out and create space.
Fifteen minutes into this match, it created more room for Félix to pick out Morata and play him a pass. It was exactly that kind of movement which saw Morata cut across from the right, with João in the middle to pick him out with a flicked pass for the centre-forward to finish from the edge of the box.
It was the same again for the second goal, where João intercepted Stefan Mitrović’s ball in the midway point of the Getafe half before feeding in Morata’s run to the right. It was another deft pass and another excellent finish as that same connection paid dividends.
Okay, it's time to talk about Álvaro Morata.— Sam Leveridge (@samleveridge) August 16, 2022
He's been pretty impressive since he returned to Atlético Madrid in the summer, and it's clear to see why he could be the solution in attack.
Here's a short thread. pic.twitter.com/AcyCGbUi3P
It didn’t end there either, as João later thread a pass through with the perfect weighting for Griezmann to collect it and fire a pinpoint effort into the bottom corner for his first goal in LaLiga since November 2021.
Last season, Atleti looked a little lost in attack. There was plenty of talent, with the likes of Luis Suárez and Ángel Correa having fine runs of form, but there was no successful structure or set-up that was particularly clinical and instead a reliance on individual talent and form. This partnership could change that.
Saúl still has life in him
Some were surprised to see another returning loanee, Saúl Ñíguez, feature as the left-wing-back in the starting line-up against Getafe. It was perhaps less surprising given Yannick Carrasco’s fitness issues late in pre-season as he overcame a strain, but it was a golden opportunity for Saúl to stake his claim.
He did just that, winning nine of 20 duels, the second highest figure behind only Stefan Savić, showing his defensive attributes while also bombing down the left flank with two dribbles to demonstrate that he can contribute in attack too.
Saúl dominated the left wing for Atlético in the first half particularly. His strong presence and determination gave João Félix more room to manouevre freely, without many defensive responsibilities. The result was that Getafe did look to target that side more to find gaps, but Saúl mostly covered the area well.
Having examined João’s threat earlier on, it’s clear that affording him such space and freedom was crucial to the result. Saúl’s stamina and engine kept him providing options out wide in attack.
It may not be the most glamorous role on offer, but Saúl continues to show he has the attributes required to provide a rounded, consistent solution at left-wing-back. Even if he is not first-choice, which would surely be Carrasco, few alternatives will be more appealing than this one.
That also raises a question: What next for Renan Lodi? The Brazilian now seems to be third-choice in the wing-back role on the left flank, and possibly even drops behind Reinildo if he is needed to move out. Now 24 years old and in his fourth season at the club, Lodi seems to be further than ever from a starting role. With only two weeks left in the transfer window, he is one of those players who could be moving on, perhaps much more likely than Saúl himself.
Koke’s slow start continues
In pre-season, we saw Koke looked a little off the pace compared to how he usually performs. He’s lacked a little edge of fitness and actually was left out of several of Diego Simeone’s starting line-ups in the summer.
The arrival of Axel Witsel, currently filling in superbly in central defence, adds competition at a higher level than Héctor Herrera offered last season. And Marcos Llorente will be available through the middle rather than down the right more regularly this season.
The captain did get the start at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez on Monday evening, but it was clear he wasn’t quite at his best. One lapse of concentration at 1-0 almost played in Getafe’s Enes Ünal to score an equaliser thanks to a sloppily-controlled ball and misplaced pass.
Players like Koke often take a few weeks and a few matches to get back into rhythm and regain their momentum in games. But as a veteran at 30 and now heading into his 13th consecutive season as a first-team regular at Atlético de Madrid, Simeone would be more than justified to demand more from his captain.
Koke is the team’s leader, but for some time his performances have been subpar. Since a muscle injury last September, he has yet to hit the same heights as a dynamic midfielder who would boss the midfield in games. Where many hoped that a full pre-season would get him fit and firing, he instead seems to be spluttering.
With such squad depth, unrivalled at almost any point in the club’s history, Koke could soon see his place in the team at threat.