Atlético Madrid suffered even more Champions League heartbreak on Tuesday as Lazio scored a 95th-minute equaliser to draw 1-1 in Rome in the first match of the competition in 2023/24. Having led since the 29th minute, it was a tough blow to take when Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel pulled the Italians level.
A shot from distance from Pablo Barrios took a deflection and hit the back of the net to give Atlético the lead, and the Colchoneros looked good value for their advantage until the dying moments, when Provedel levelled the scoreline with a header.
Here, we take a look at some of the key talking points from the game.
Really? Did it really end like that?
Atlético fans are used to suffering, but this was a whole new level. Atleti had looked assured, composed, and — while not looking remarkable or particularly deadly in attack — they did not look to be under a huge amount of pressure from Lazio other than one superb Jan Oblak save.
Then it happened. Atleti conceded a corner kick with less than 20 seconds left on the clock, failed to clear and then failed to track the run of goalkeeper Ivan Provedel as he walked straight through the defence like an invisible man.
It made him only the second goalkeeper to score in open play in the Champions League, the first since Vincent Enyeama scored for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010. It also won Lazio a point after it had seemed Atleti had all three in the bag.
LAZIO GOALKEEPER IVAN PROVEDEL SCORES WITH THE LAST TOUCH OF THE GAME— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2023
Only the second keeper in Champions League HISTORY to score a non-penalty. pic.twitter.com/wMpUhnMwg7
It was only Lazio’s second shot on target from inside the box of the full 90, following the Ciro Immobile effort which drew the very best out of Jan Oblak. This time, his defence left Oblak with no chance of stopping the header that came at him from five yards out.
It’s now nine games without a win in the Champions League for Atlético, their worst run since 2009, some 14 years ago. It also means that Feyenoord sit two points clear at the top of the group, confirming a missed opportunity for the Rojiblancos in Rome.
What is wrong with Marcos Llorente?
Marcos Llorente being a disappointment is slowly becoming a concerningly long-term trend for Atlético Madrid. He started the 2023/24 campaign positively, his goal against Granada being his first at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano with fans in attendance. But that optimism has been short-lived, and his form has returned to that which we have seen for too long over the past two years.
Llorente’s first half in particular was woeful, with only 14 ball involvements and four possession losses. He came up short in every duel and failed to recover the ball once. The second half showed an improvement, perhaps freed up by having Axel Witsel alongside him, but he still failed to contribute.
For all the dribbles and passes and moves in which he was involved — Llorente created two chances in the second period — they were not high-quality, and it was another frustrating night for Llorente, coming after one of his worst performances in an Atleti shirt at Mestalla.
It also raises the question over whether Llorente is actually so good after all. Kieran Trippier did a lot of the ground work and provided the connection with which Llorente thrived. Without the Englishman, Llorente has not returned to the same level of form. Even with Nahuel Molina, a very talented and impressive right-wing-back, he has not been able to recover the same level.
Llorente, known for his natural fitness and physique, had the height of his career at a time when other players struggled for fitness and were unable to keep in shape in the usual way. That may be no coincidence.
Just how far can Pablo Barrios go?
On the other end of the scale, young Pablo Barrios scored on his first Champions League start for Atlético de Madrid. His effort, which took a fortunate deflection on its way in, was what set Atlético on the path to victory and saw him look the hero.
Beyond just his goal, Barrios was clinical on the ball, completing 93% of his passes, and he was strong off the ball, winning every tackle attempted and recovering possession on two occasions. Of his 34 touches, 31 ended successfully.
With Barrios continuing in the number five role, he looked assured and comfortable in the role at the highest level of the elite. Lazio struggled to break him down and instead resorted to moving the ball into wider areas in an attempt to find a way around him.
1 - At 20 years and 96 days, Pablo Barrios is the youngest Spanish player to score for @atletienglish in @ChampionsLeague, beating Saúl Ñíguez's previous record against Astana in 2015 (20 years and 334 days).— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 19, 2023
The only concern was that Barrios was forced off at half-time due to a muscle strain. Diego Simeone was clearly unwilling to gamble on his fitness, and with no alternative, it’s easy to see why he wanted to play it safe with his 20-year-old prodigy.
How much worse can the injury crisis get?
Barrios and Witsel joined an already-lengthy injury list as both were withdrawn with new muscular problems. They join a list which already includes Thomas Lemar, Rodrigo de Paul, Koke, Reinildo, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Memphis Depay. And Vitolo — but the less said about him, the better.
In addition to that assortment of players, Llorente, Molina, Josema Giménez, and Ángel Correa have all missed out due to injuries already this season, while Oblak and Samuel Lino have also sat out training at different times due to knocks of their own.
Of course, luck is a factor and Atlético have been unlucky. But at this point, where Colchoneros are once again left ruing a lengthy injury list, and once again so early on in the season, questions must be asked.
Profe Ortega’s ‘traditional’ pre-season routine of running up and down hills and covering huge amounts of ground in the build up to the season no longer seems to have an effect and only seems to build up fatigue. It’s notable that Ortega is one of few coaches to follow this kind of approach in 2023.
It could also link to players like Llorente and Saúl Ñíguez, both of whom have peaked young while in optimal physical condition and then faded rapidly as injuries sunk in.
Diego Simeone has to reflect on what is causing these persistent issues year after year, because it’s causing his team more harm than good yet again. And we’re only in September.