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4 talking points from Feyenoord 1-3 Atlético Madrid

An impressive win, and Atleti reach the knockouts.

Feyenoord v Atletico Madrid: Group E - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by NESimages/Herman Dingler/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid secured safe passage to the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League by overcoming Dutch champions Feyenoord in their own backyard with a very strong display.

The 3-1 victory means that Atlético will qualify regardless of the result of their final group stage game against Lazio in December. The win at De Kuip was not an easy one — Atleti had to earn its safe passage.

Diego Simeone’s men benefitted from two own goals, firstly from Lutsharel Geertruida to give the visitors the lead and quiet the home fans. Mario Hermoso then doubled the team’s lead with a memorable volley, with Mats Wieffer then cutting the distance in half on 77 minutes. Nerves were eased again when Feyenoord’s danger man, Santiago Giménez, then got an unfortunate last touch to deflect a Nahuel Molina free kick into his own net.

Here are four talking points from the game.

1. And breathe...

Atlético Madrid are through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Doesn’t that feel good to read?

It wasn’t a sure-fire thing for a long time, and after last season’s disaster in the competition, no Atlético fan was going to count their eggs before they hatched. This season, the injury-time equaliser from a goalkeeper in Rome and dropped points in Glasgow made the task harder. As Ciro Immobile rocked up with two goals in three minutes for Lazio against Celtic in the early kick-off on Tuesday, it felt like the odds were once again stacking up against Atleti. When Wieffer headed into the bottom corner with less than 15 minutes to go, it felt like the rojiblancos would have to suffer just to earn a point.

Fortunately, the travelling team got the job done in a wild Dutch atmosphere. And, as much as this was an excellent performance, there was a deal of fortune in this win. Atleti failed to convert 1.14 of expected goals and benefitted from two own goals plus the stunning finish from Hermoso. It was a game Atleti have produced many times before with a less-favorable outcome.

Now, there will be a tense battle with Lazio to take place on December 13 at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano. In addition to what is bound to be another incredible atmosphere, there will be the two top teams in the group fighting out for the number one position and, as such, a favourable draw in the first knock-out round.

2. Mario Hermoso just scored the goal of the season

It will take some doing to see an Atlético player score a better goal than the second goal for the away team. Hermoso chipped the ball over Justin Bijlow in the Feyenoord goal — a shot so unlikely that the expected goals scale rated it at just 0.05 xG.

Credit must also go to Pablo Barrios, who had entered the action only moments previously for Marcos Llorente. The 20-year-old immediately picked out Hermoso as he dashed through the Dutch backline and then proceeded to chip the ball over Bijlow with a fine volley that showed expert technique as it billowed into the back of the net.

Feyenoord Rotterdam v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

How did the 28-year-old defender end up in that position? It’s a good question, and one only he knows the answer to. Having carried the ball out from deep, he continued his run and saw gaps open up ahead of him and simply didn’t stop.

It was a strong all-round performance from Hermoso, despite a slightly nervous start that saw him put the ball out of play in Feyenoord’s very first press. His distribution was key — a match-high 13 passes into the final third — but his defending was too. No Atleti player won more tackles than Hermoso’s two.

3. 100, not out

Diego Simeone joined an elite club on Tuesday night as he became only the third coach to reach 100 Champions League games with the same club, and the first to reach the landmark figure outside of the Premier League. He joined Alex Ferguson of Manchester United and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal in reaching the figure.

El Cholo’s record is an impressive one, with this being his 48th win in the competition, alongside 27 draws and 25 defeats. He ranks comfortably in the top 10 of all-time matches in UEFA’s elite competition, behind only Ferguson, Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Massimiliano Allegri and Mircea Lucescu.

It’s also a good time to reflect on Atlético’s evolution under Simeone. When he took over in the dugout, the club had only registered 62 appearances in the European Cup or Champions League, and now he alone has entered three digits. The Rojiblancos had only featured twice this century before Simeone — getting knocked out in the last 16 by Porto in 2009 was the furthest they had gone.

Simeone will still feel that he has a debt owed to this competition, and he knows that to truly compare himself to the greatest names in the game he will have to get his hands on the trophy. But few can deny the size of the achievement to reach this landmark, and to do so constantly evolving his team and tactics.

4. Has the Morata of old returned?

It’s only been two games, but the form of Álvaro Morata since the international break has been worthy of concern.

The Spanish forward has now racked up 1.7 xG without scoring against Mallorca and Feyenoord, and he appears to be returning to his form of old — where he would snatch at chances a little and lose his composure in front of goal.

Morata missed two big chances at De Kuip, one on the counter as he skirted around the edge of the box and hit an effort straight at Bijlow (0.43 xG), and another later in the second half as he headed the ball well wide (0.39 xG).

Feyenoord v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Pim Waslander/Soccrates/Getty Images

A return to norm is always expected to be the case, but it is disappointing after seeing Morata in such excellent form. When he’s on it, Morata really is the number nine that Atlético desperately need, and it makes you what could have been with his career if he was able to perform like that consistently.

But in a way, Morata’s drop-off couldn’t come at a better time. Antoine Griezmann is in fine goalscoring form of late, Ángel Correa is fully fit and desperate for a chance, and Memphis Depay has now returned to the squad lists after a prolonged injury. If Morata’s form does continue to sink, there’ll be no shortage of competition for his starting place.