Atlético Madrid came back down to earth in matchday two after opening the season with a win over Granada.
Los Colchoneros drew a blank in a 0-0 draw against Real Betis at the Estadio Benito Villamarín on Sunday night. The duel saw just one single shot on target, a tame 65th-minute header from Mario Hermoso that was easily saved by Rui Silva. It was a tie of few chances, even fewer opportunities, and not much to get excited about on a hot, drowsy evening.
Here are four talking points from the game.
1: Atleti need more options in attack
It was less than a week ago that I wrote in this column about the strength in depth offered by Memphis Depay and Álvaro Morata, but the truth is that those two players alone are not enough. Morata’s form and confidence issues, combined with Memphis’ fitness, mean that neither are yet fully-reliable options to count on throughout a full season.
Against Real Betis, Atlético had to face up to a match without Ángel Correa due to injury for the first time since he joined the club in 2014, following a nasty challenge against Granada on Monday night which saw nothing awarded. The absence of his energy and spark in attack was clear for all to see. Atleti were operating against a Betis side sitting deep and denying space. That ability to create something out of nothing was desperately needed.
Antoine Griezmann has also had a slow start to the season. The Frenchman often takes a while to get up and going, and this year is no different — although he seemed to buck that trend in 2022/23 when he was limited to 30 minutes per appearance in the opening weeks.
Granada’s promising forward Samu Omorodion is set to join this week, but it also seems he will not stay with the team this season following his arrival. Ironically, it might have been the kind of game for João Félix to make an impact off the bench and prove a point, but he was absent with an “injury.”
2: Or does the problem come from deeper than that?
As much as we can look to the front men for where Atlético failed to score on Sunday, it’s also important to take a look at the service they got. And the truth is that the midfield and wing backs let them down on this occasion in Seville.
The midfield featured without Koke and with a number of other factors coming into consideration. The two bright sparks were Pablo Barrios, who came on as a substitute after having barely trained for much of the week, and Rodrigo de Paul, who looked more comfortable than expected operating in the holding role that the team captain usually occupies.
Thomas Lemar and Marcos Llorente were both anonymous, while Saúl Ñíguez came off the bench to do the same. Llorente recorded just one pass into the final third in his 45 minutes, while Lemar only reached six in his 64 minutes.
Equally, down the flanks, Yannick Carrasco recorded just one pass into the final third himself. It seems mind-blowing that César Azpilicueta, with far more defensive responsibility, on the right flank managed seven passes into the final third and created one chance. That’s one more than Lemar, Llorente, Saúl and Carrasco combined.
Off the bench, Samuel Lino and Rodrigo Riquelme created one chance and made four passes into the final third. They showed more than the aforementioned established names, with the exception of Azpilicueta, and have staked their claim for a starting role.
3: VAR can now get involved in yellow cards
One of the strangest moments in this game came on 43 minutes as Real Betis sought to counter and Stefan Savić slid in to cleanly take the ball away from Guido Rodríguez. He won the ball cleanly, making contact with the Argentine in the follow-through.
Referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea initially indicated that Savić had got the ball and allowed play to continue. Seconds later, he blew his whistle and showed Savić a yellow card, pointing to his earpiece.
VAR should not be involved in the awarding of any yellow cards, only entering into the equation for goals, red card offences or penalties. The CTA, the referring committee, will almost certainly deny any involvement here, but De Burgos Bengoetxea’s gestures would indicate that there was an indication to change his decision.
It was a bizarre moment in what was a strong defensive performance across the board. Alongside Savić, one of the highlights was Axel Witsel getting a rare start in defence. Playing in the central role with plenty of cover on either side, he looked assured throughout and marshalled the game well as a sweeper. It’s likely to be see the role we see him in time and time again this year.
4: A point at the Villamarín is still a good point
This game was always going to be a little bit of a damp squib. When the final whistle blew at almost midnight on Sunday night, the temperature was still at 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Seville, and neither team was willing to throw everything in desperation for more than a point.
The truth is that Real Betis are Atlético’s rivals for a top-four spot and pushed for much of 2022/23 to break into the Champions League places. Manuel Pellegrini’s men will likely do so again this year. Pellegrini has built a tough team to beat, and they have had a strong start to the campaign after beating Villarreal in matchday one.
It’s also true that Betis dominated much of this game, particularly in the first half. The hosts managed 14 shots in total, albeit without any on target, which reflects the fact that Betis could have done more. If either side will feel frustrated to have left with one point rather than three, it should be the Verdiblancos.
Atlético have done well at the Villamarín in recent years, with three wins, a draw and a defeat in the last five years. Walking away with a point in these conditions is not something that the team will look back on with a huge deal of regret or embarrassment. The fact that it comes so early in the season means that there should not be any panic caused by the result — it was more a show of mutual respect between the two teams.