Atlético Madrid notched up a fourth win in a row, and the third win to nil in a row, as they overcame Valencia at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano on Sunday night. The 2-0 win was hard work to begin with, but soon looked like plain sailing as the team got going.
Samuel Lino picked the lock deep into first-half injury time, with Memphis Depay adding a second early in the second half, and it could have been three had Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea not cancelled a penalty call as José Luis Gayà brought down Nahuel Molina in the box.
Here are four of the key talking points from the game.
1. Koke’s lesson for Arthur Vermeeren
A lot of eyes at the Metropolitano were on the club’s exciting new signing, teenage midfielder Arthur Vermeeren. As he took to the bench, without getting any minutes just yet as he waits to make his debut, he would have done well to watch the midfield masterclass that captain Koke produced on the field.
The stats say it all. Koke registered a match-high of 121 attempted passes, but also for pass completion rate at 95% as 116 of those passes finding their target. Fourteen of those were into the final third. At the same time, he registered a match-high for duels won with nine, out of 11, and also for tackles won, with five out of eight.
To put that in words, Koke bossed it. His pass in the build up to the second goal, converted by Memphis, crossed the ball from one side to the other with a vision and technique that even the most elite of players can only aspire to.
At 32, Koke still produces performances like this one to show that he has plenty left in the engine. Atlético must nail down his future sooner rather than later to ensure that he can continue to lead by example for the likes of Vermeeren and Pablo Barrios.
2. Samuel Lino is one of Atleti’s best players
With his sixth goal of the season at a crucial time, Lino once again made a difference for Atlético de Madrid. Up against his former team, he showed just what a perfect fit he is for Diego Simeone’s side and system, dominating the left flank and giving the experienced Dimitri Foulquier an evening to forget.
Lino’s goal was trademark of his style, timing a late run with pace perfectly in order to break through and then convert a very well-taken chance to give Atlético the lead. It showed the kind of cutting edge he has brought to the team.
Carrasco has posters of Lino in his room pic.twitter.com/XR6gvdEt4e— Ajdin (@BihAtletiFan) January 28, 2024
Lino contributed much more than just his goal, though. In addition, he completed more dribbles than anyone else on the field and with three chances created, was more active in chance creation than anybody else too. That’s even more impressive when you remember he only worked 67 minutes.
Early in the season, there was real concern at the departure of Yannick Carrasco. Now, nobody has thought about the Belgian since the day his exit was confirmed in early September. Lino has made the role his own, and nobody can take that away from him.
3. Reinildo’s return
Three-hundred and thirty-seven days later, Reinildo was back in a starting line-up for Atlético Madrid. The central defender turned out in his first start since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu almost 12 months ago. How Atlético have missed him.
After regaining fitness in the Africa Cup of Nations and with Mario Hermoso in need of a rest, Reinildo showed everyone exactly what they’ve been missing. He won five out of eight duels, making eight clearances and six possession recoveries as well as winning his only tackle. He was not dribbled past once.
In possession, he was clearly playing a different role to that of Hermoso as is to be expected, but he still completed four passes into the final third and wasn’t afraid of getting on the ball. In fact, his reliance on feeding the pass into Koke was part of what enabled him to have such an influence on the game.
Now, a new fitness concern for Josema Giménez (more on that later), means that Reinildo could be firmly back in the picture. The unreliable form of Stefan Savić and injuries to Giménez and César Azpilicueta mean that he could be one of only three fit senior central defenders ahead of a crucial few weeks.
4. Injury worries for Giménez and Morata
While everything on the field went swimmingly and according to plan, there was a sour taste left in the mouth of any Colchonero at the Metropolitano on Sunday night. That was because of the two enforced changes involving Giménez and Álvaro Morata, which are a real cause for concern.
Simeone attempted to downplay the injuries post-match, but Giménez’s tests on Monday have already shown a grade one tear to his thigh which is likely to keep him out for two to three weeks — ruling him out for the Madrid derby in LALIGA and the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.
Simeone: "Giménez and Morata? We have to wait. Tomorrow we will know more exactly what they may have."— The Partido a Partido Podcast (@ThePaPPod) January 28, 2024
That is frustrating as the Uruguayan, who is no stranger to injury, has been in excellent form in recent weeks as Atleti have tied up three consecutive clean sheets. The same can also be said for Morata, who appeared to be struggling with some muscle discomfort of his own.
However, the picture is a bit rosier for the Spain forward, who took a knee to the back of the thigh toward the end of Sunday’s game. Morata is aiming to be back for Sunday’s derby against Real Madrid, as teammate Antoine Griezmann confirmed in a radio interview Monday night.