Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano bore witness to history on Saturday night. Atlético Madrid scored six goals at the stadium with fans in attendance for the first time in celebration of Diego Simeone taking charge of his 613th match, surpassing Luis Aragonés for the most in club history.
Memphis Depay opened the scoring with a first-half brace, with Youssef En-Nesyri pulling one back as Atlético switched off at the back on the stroke of half-time. In the second period, Antoine Griezmann scored a wonder goal and Yannick Carrasco added a fourth before Ivan Rakitić missed a very questionable penalty. In the closing stages, Álvaro Morata added two more for himself to complete the rout.
Here, we take a look at three things we learned from the game.
Diego Simeone wanted a party
This was a special day for Simeone, for so many reasons. Before kick-off, he was surprised on the touchline by his two daughters and son Giovanni, who plays as a forward for presumptive Serie A champions Napoli. El Cholo was presented a commemorative shirt of his 613th match as Atlético Madrid coach. To hand over the shirt, Luis Aragonés’s son joined the Simeone family on the field of play.
Diego Simeone passes Luis Aragonés' record as the coach with the most matches in Atletico history with 613 ⚪ pic.twitter.com/qdM1fvLecY— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 4, 2023
This set the tone for a night of celebration at the Metropolitano, with the highlight possibly being Griezmann running straight to his coach as he celebrated his 53rd-minute goal. The whole team ran over to the man in charge and, as much as he tried to deflect the attention to the players, it was a clear tribute.
In spite of the recent tension in the stands centered on internal politics, the whole ground was unified in their chants of “Olé, olé, olé, Cholo Simeone” and the celebration was one worthy of the occasion.
But beyond just that, Simeone looks happy to be the coach of Atlético Madrid again. In recent weeks, his press conferences have been more positive, bouncing with energy and fully engaging. Simeone doesn’t hold back and directly addresses even the more difficult questions.
It’s a stark contrast to the Simeone that we saw in the dugout in October. He looked burnt out, tired, frustrated. Now, we’ve seen a complete transformation. Even looking to his team selections, we saw more daring attacking intent, more belief in his trademark 4-4-2, and even more involvement of youngsters with Pablo Barrios recording his first assist on Saturday and Carlos Martín also being given game time.
His future may still be somewhat up in the air, but Simeone looks to be loving life at Atlético more than at any other time in the past two years. Judging by the atmosphere in Madrid on Saturday night, everyone will be hoping that translates into an extended stay.
And some people want Diego Simeone out…— Sam Leveridge (@samleveridge) March 4, 2023
Competition in attack is a great thing
The choice of Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann as the starting duo in the attack was something of a surprise. The Dutch international had not been given a start since joining in January, but it was an inspired choice. Memphis looked a real threat right from the off as he broke through the lines and hesitated, taking one too many touches and allowing former Atlético B goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to push him wide.
The second time he made a similar run through, sitting on the shoulder of the last man, Memphis did not make the same mistake. It was a composed finish and a passionate celebration which clearly boosted his confidence.
When Memphis cut inside to fire a rocket into the top corner four minutes later, we saw the kind of finish we have not seen from an Atleti forward in some time.
WHAT A STRIKE FROM DEPAY— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 4, 2023
A brace in his first start for Atleti pic.twitter.com/FBKc1fzrEX
When Álvaro Morata came on in the second half, with Memphis clearly exhausted after making his first LaLiga start since September 17th, it was evident that the Spaniard knew he had a point to prove. His runs were well-timed, he looked more active and desperate to get involved with more movement, and he dropped deep to get involved when play didn’t come his way.
And Morata too scored a brace, getting himself in the right place at the right time on both occasions, and taking his tally for goals this season to double figures with 11. Adding in Griezmann’s golazo, this meant Atlético strikers produced five goals in a single game for the first time this season, and the group looked more deadly than at any other time since Luis Suárez departed.
The competition between Memphis and Morata is healthy, and the latter’s performance here was the strongest we have seen for some time. Simeone will have been delighted to see the impact Morata made off the bench, given he’s been a substitute for the past three games.
But it also showed that Atlético upgraded over the January transfer window despite replacing two players, Matheus Cunha and João Félix, with one in Memphis Depay. He is a different figure, adapting into this number nine role, and doing something different with his shots from distance. Atleti have not had this element in recent years, and it adds to the team’s attacking repertoire.
Playing once a week has got Atleti in their best form since 2020/21
This performance was the pinnacle of something that has been building over recent weeks. This Atlético Madrid team is enjoying its best run of form for some time, and it would not be harsh to suggest it’s the best form that Atlético have had since they won the league title two years ago.
This isn’t simply an overreaction to one big win. Seven days ago, we saw a purely Cholista performance at the Santiago Bernabéu, when Atleti went toe to toe with Real Madrid and were unfortunate not to take three points, even with refereeing interventions.
Since the disappointing defeat to Mallorca in early November, only Madrid and Barcelona, LaLiga’s top two teams, have been able to beat Atleti. Madrid needed extra time to eliminate the Rojiblancos from the Copa del Rey, and Simeone’s men were only narrowly beaten by Barcelona. Excluding those two defeats, Atleti have dropped only four points since the Mallorca loss.
One of the major differences, and something Simeone referred to regularly early on in the season, is how often Atlético have been playing. The team struggled most when playing twice a week. Now down to one game per week, the team looks refreshed, rejuvenated and can play with far greater intensity. They’re pressing better, they’re more clinical and faster on the counter, and generally playing at a much higher level.
That points to an issue with squad depth. In the second half of the season, Atlético’s squad is much shallower, as several players left in January and few replacements were brought in. However, the squad looks more united, and young talent is coming through with desire to make an impression, rather than ageing pros looking for a last payday.
The awareness from Barrios to know Carasco is in space and the execution shows one of the reasons he’s a first-team player. pic.twitter.com/nWL3ZYELAa— Lavo (@LigaLavo) March 4, 2023
The challenge will be how Atlético can extend this into next season. The finances seem to dictate that big additions are unlikely, but more depth will be needed if Atleti are competing on various fronts again. First, Atleti must take advantage of this great form to reach the Champions League and end LaLiga as high as possible, but then the real test will arrive.