A triumphant thrashing of Celta Vigo was just what Diego Simeone ordered — an impressive victory which vindicated several of his decisions over recent weeks and to build upon the boost of the dramatic midweek win over Porto.
After opting to rotate with the likes of Koke, João Félix, and Marcos Llorente rested, Diego Simeone’s message to his squad was clear.
“It’s not easy to change a lot of players and have them respond. I give to you and you give to me. Everyone is important, no-one is indispensable. We need to be a team. Whoever understands that will get more minutes and whoever doesn’t, won’t.”
It came as Antoine Griezmann was yet again a 63rd minute substitute but performed well, while Matheus Cunha also came on and forced the fourth goal with some brilliant individual work.
“We talk these days about the things we do very well, which are a lot even if some people don’t see them,” Simeone continued as he assessed the display of his players. “We have to help the players see them, but this team has a lot of players who play very well.
“The four goals, the third the most, were very good link-up plays. The team was more courageous, more intense and aggressive,” he said, his admiration very clear. “We ended up winning after we had the lead at 3-1. But Cunha’s 4-1 is what we were looking for.
“We try to make the fans feel good,” the coach insisted. “Today I felt the fans very close, as always in the history of this club. The goals were beautifully scored.”
The quality of the goals scored was something Celta coach Chacho Coudet also highlighted.
“They punished us too much, in terms of the course of the game. We had three clear-cut (chances) in the first half and we went in with the score down,” he lamented. “They scored two goals on the counter. It was a very big scoreline for what the game was like. And I’m very disappointed because we were really looking forward to winning here.”
One of the surprises was to see Ivo Grbić starting in goal for Atlético Madrid, with Jan Oblak still recovering from a knock picked up last weekend against Real Sociedad. The Slovenian did feature against Porto in midweek but opted to rest against Celta.
“Oblak decided that he wasn’t ready for today and that he would make room for his teammate,” he revealed. “I’m very happy for Ivo, a guy with energy who worked for this opportunity.”
One of Atlético’s standout performers this season has been Axel Witsel, and he once again excelled on Saturday.
“He has a great virtue: a vision like few others,” Simeone reflected. “He has been a midfielder with great vision. When Giménez or Savić weren’t there, we understood that his characteristics could bring us something. He didn’t just do well in that position. Everything that involves playing up front he plays very well.”
Another fine performer was Rodrigo de Paul, who registered both a goal and an assist.
“I don’t know if it’s my best, but it was a good game,” the midfielder said. “The important thing is to help the team and get the win. The important thing is the image that the team gave in relation to the games that are coming up.
“The competition in the middle of the pitch encourages us to be better, to compete and not to relax,” he continued. “Whoever is on one side knows they can be on the other. That’s the basis for what Atlético wants to fight for ... I wish I could score more goals and assists, but I don’t negotiate attitude and desire, they are my essence. From the country I come from. You have to have a winning attitude, and I’m not going to slack off.”
De Paul also looked at what Atleti’s chances are in LaLiga and assessed the likelihood of competing with the top two for the title.
“Madrid are the last champions, we have to respect them. Barcelona have signed a lot and well,” the Argentine said. “We try to respect them, when the end of the season comes if we are in a favourable position we can compete. I’m convinced that nobody wants to play us but the favourites are Madrid, because they are the champions, and Barça, because of their signings.
“I think most of the players in this dressing room have been champions, and those who have been champions know how nice it is,” he continued. “It’s not about being conformist, it’s about realities ... We are very happy with the squad we have. When the time comes we can sprint to fight, there’s a World Cup on the line.”
The ambition of players like de Paul could be crucial to pushing Atleti into the top four for good after these three points moved the Colchoneros into fourth overnight with five games played.