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4 talking points from Atlético Madrid 1-0 Sevilla

Marcos Llorente scored the winning goal early in the second half.

Atletico Madrid v Sevilla - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by David S.Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid wrapped up 2023 with a victory at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano as fans donned their red and white Santa Claus hats. Sevilla, led by former Atlético coach Quique Sánchez Flores and featuring a certain Sergio Ramos, were beaten 1-0 in a postponed match which was originally due to be played in September.

The winning goal came from Marcos Llorente just seconds into the second half, following his introduction at half-time. However, a straight red card for Çaglar Söyüncü meant that Atleti were left clinging on with 10 men, just as they were on Tuesday night.

Here are four talking points from the game.

1. Marcos Llorente is in excellent form

Nahuel Molina was given the nod to start at right-wing-back in this game, but following a mixed first-half display, he was substituted for Llorente. It only took the Spaniard 50 seconds to give his team the lead with a trademark goal, scored in his usual style.

Koke’s impressive pass fed in Llorente, who broke away with pace and stamina. He then reacted quickest to a woeful attempted clearance from Ramos, to see the ball bobble over the line and give the home side its needed lead.

It’s interesting to note a similar break down the flank against Getafe on Tuesday gave Atlético another crucial goal, when Rodrigo Riquelme dropped a cross for Antoine Griezmann to turn in at the end of the first half. Llorente recorded an assist himself during the 3-3 draw, and after following it up with a goal on Saturday, he looks to be in peak physical condition and it’s having an impact on his play. He’s now back at the top of his game following nearly 18 months of injuries.

Llorente’s best role may not be in the wing-back position, but we are seeing how it can work well. Playing ahead of César Azpilicueta, he’s able to get further forward in a role which is, at times, almost reminiscent of the right wing role in which he excelled through the title-winning 2020/21 campaign. It’s an approach worth monitoring if Diego Simeone wants to get the best out of Llorente.

2. Rodrigo de Paul’s new look and new performance

This was arguably de Paul’s best game in an Atlético shirt. Donning a new hairstyle — which fans much appreciated, as they found it that little bit easier to differentiate between him and Griezmann — de Paul produced a masterful midfield display, with more touches (87) than any other player and more chances created (three) than anyone as well.

De Paul had the second-most passes attempted at 62 and registered a 95% completion rate, while also winning seven fouls and 12 of his 14 duels. Even up against experienced pros like Ivan Rakitić in the Sevilla side, he bossed the midfield almost single-handedly.

Atletico Madrid v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Consistency has been the major issue for de Paul this season, but he seems to be settling in and finding his place in the team, having become established as one of the regulars in the starting line-up. Alongside Koke, he’s been Simeone’s go-to man in midfield for a prolonged period.

If Atlético are to compete for silverware this season, they need this de Paul more regularly. He’s shown for Argentina that he has the talent to be a world-class midfielder, but this was one of the first times we’ve seen him boss a game in the middle of the park. Long may it continue.

3. Reinildo’s return

Exactly 301 days after he last touched the ball in a competitive match, Reinildo Mandava made his long-awaited return for Atlético de Madrid. The defender came back into the action unexpectedly, replacing Söyüncü after his dismissal on 70 minutes for his first action since he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear against Real Madrid in February.

It was a testing return for Reinildo. Defending a 1-0 lead with 10 men was a tough circumstance for his comeback, and he looked to settle into the left of the defence, though he lost all three of his aerial duels. In a way, it suited him. Many have asked whether Atlético would lose out given his lack of distribution compared to Mario Hermoso, but there was no demand or expectation for that in these circumstances.

In January, Reinildo will join the Mozambique national team for the African Cup of Nations. He could miss as many as six matches during that period, but in a best case for Atlético, he is guaranteed only to miss the Spanish Super Cup final and the away trip to strugglers Granada. As Mozambique have been drawn into a group with Egypt, Ghana and Cape Verde, that could be the most likely scenario.

Reinildo’s return is most welcome because Atlético’s defence is in a disastrous state. Josema Giménez can’t stay fit. Stefan Savić is a liability. Söyüncü lasted only four minutes on the field before going through the back of Lucas Ocampos’ leg — the Turkish international is still yet to play more than 45 minutes in red and white. It’s already become clear that he is not up to the standard that Atlético de Madrid demand.

4. Quique Sánchez Flores is back

It wasn’t only Reinildo who was given a warm reception on Saturday, but also Quique Sánchez Flores. He is highly respected by Atlético fans for his 2010 conquest of the Europa League, and he’s now back in LALIGA with Sevilla.

Following stints with Espanyol and Getafe, as well as several spells abroad, QSF is now back again in Andalusia and replaced another former Atlético man, Diego Alonso, on the Sevilla bench. His debut saw them record their first win in months in a 3-0 victory over local rivals Granada, and it was a daunting prospect for Atleti on Saturday to face a team on the up.

Atletico de Madrid v Getafe CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

This was the first game at the Metropolitano for Sánchez Flores since Getafe secured a 1-1 draw there in February, before the start of Atlético’s 20-match winning run on home turf. It was his third tie in front of Atleti fans since his departure in 2011, and he’s made it clear that his teams are never easy to beat.

QSF deserved the applause he earned from the crowd, and will feel that he can continue to progress with this Sevilla side as they make improvements. While Sevilla are unlikely to concern Atleti this season, his appointment will prove more of a worry to some teams in Spain who were hoping that the chaos at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán would continue.