Atlético Madrid made it 18 consecutive home wins in all competitions courtesy of a single goal from Antoine Griezmann, as the French international nodded the ball into the back of the net to beat Mallorca 1-0 at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano on Saturday night.
Javier Aguirre returned to face his former club, and the side from the Balearic Islands put up a strong fight, denying the Colchoneros space or much room to operate in a condensed attacking third. With Álvaro Morata more like the Morata of old than that of this season, it felt for a time as If the result could go begging before Mario Hermoso crossed in to Griezmann just after the hour mark.
Here are four of the top talking points from the encounter.
1. What a talent Pablo Barrios is
The headline story of the night was the fact that Koke, the 31-year-old club legend, made his 600th appearance for Atlético Madrid in the centre of midfield. It came as rumours swirl about his future, with the club’s first contract extension offer said to be below expectations. Had he turned to his right on Saturday night to notice the performance of Pablo Barrios, he may well have seen the man who will eventually come to succeed him.
The 20-year-old midfielder was at the heart of the action. No player either won (or lost) more duels than Barrios, who racked up an impressively-high 25 duels across the 90 minutes. Of that total, he won just over half at 13. He recovered the ball five times and intercepted it on three occasions, adding support for Koke in the holding role and freeing up Griezmann to move forward more freely.
Beyond that, Barrios contributed crucially in the transition and offense too. Seven dribbles forward was more than any other player, and he created two chances which were worth 0.3 expected assists, as two of his seven passes into the final third.
Barrios continues to progress well, and he’s developing in accordance with his enormous talent. It seems unbelievable that Saturday was only his fourth time completing a full 90 minutes in LaLiga, and the first time he was won a game in which he played every minute in the competition.
2. Even when not at his best, Antoine Griezmann makes a difference
The hero for Atlético de Madrid on Saturday night was once again Antoine Griezmann. His glancing header secured the three points, despite the fact that the Frenchman wasn’t quite at his best, having played 180 minutes for France over the international break.
“He manages himself very well,” Diego Simeone explained in his post-game press conference, before adding a clear criticism of Didier Deschamps. “It’s a shame that us clubs have to manage our players.”
With 24 games, Griezmann is the man who has scored every goal in a LaLiga game the most, overtaking Hugo Sánchez on 23. In total, he was won Atlético 83 points in LaLiga, including the two additional points gained with this win, as he moved up to second in the club’s top scoring rankings on 170 goals — edging ever closer to Luis Aragonés’ all-time record.
Atlético Madrid’s second all-time top scorer with 170 goals:— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 25, 2023
Antoine Griezmann pic.twitter.com/lpE5amjeev
To say “Griezmann’s performance was not his best” also speaks volumes of how high he has set the bar. Playing in a deeper midfield role, he created two chances, scored with his only shot, and won six out of eight ground duels. He wasn’t at his creative best, but he was a threat throughout.
In 2023, Griezmann has scored 16 goals and claimed seven assists in 21 games at the Metropolitano. That impressive form and run at home has been key to ensuring that Atlético fans have no doubts about quite how much they adore their number seven.
3. Samuel Lino or Rodrigo Riquelme?
One of the biggest selection headaches for Simeone this season has been in the left-wing-back role. Since the departure of Yannick Carrasco, Samuel Lino and Rodrigo Riquelme have vied for the position, rotating and alternating, and the Brazilian youngster got the nod to start against Mallorca — though we did see them combine on the field for the first time.
Lino’s all-round performance was, once again, superb. He created more chances than any other player with five and he was fouled more than anybody else as he won four free-kicks for Atleti. The 23-year-old also completed more tackles than anyone else with two. It was a complete performance just missing a goal or assist, which he could’ve got had Morata had his shooting boots on.
What was perhaps most intriguing of all came during Simeone’s postgame availability, where he appeared to criticise Lino despite his performance.
“Lino is growing, he is improving,” Simeone told Movistar. “We need more from him, we need goals. We are going to demand this because he has it. He had a big chance in the first half to be able to finish faster and he didn’t do it, he lost some time and that can’t be allowed.”
Those weaknesses in his game appear to be some of Riquelme’s biggest strengths, and highlighting them sends a clear message. It seems that even though they played together for an eight-minute spell on Saturday night, they may continue to alternate.
After another win, it was somewhat predictable that a lot of talk would turn to what this result means for Atlético and what is coming up in their next league outing, a tricky away trip to top-four rivals FC Barcelona at Montjuïc.
The win puts Atleti on 31 points, ahead of Barça with one fewer game played, following the Catalans’ draw with Rayo Vallecano on the other side of Madrid earlier on Saturday. However, as Simeone made clear in his press conference after the game, he is only focused on one thing:
️ Are you worried about Barça?— Atletico Universe (@atletiuniverse) November 25, 2023
️| Diego Simeone: “Feyenoord.”
The reality of Atlético’s fixture list is that the team return after this international break and face eight games in 28 days. The first task will be to secure Champions League group stage qualification, which they failed to do last year, by beating Feyenoord in The Netherlands on Tuesday night in another complicated fixture.
The next seven days could be defining for Atlético. European fates and any title hopes could be settled by taking on two teams who won their domestic leagues last season. If we wanted a test to see quite how good Atleti really are, this is certainly it.