Atletico Madrid put on a much improved attacking display on Sunday afternoon, beating Espanyol 3-1 at Wanda Metropolitano.
Los Rojiblancos were more direct and creative than recent weeks as they controlled the fixture from the off, with Alvaro Morata squandering an early opportunity following a clever exchange with Vitolo.
Espanyol though took a 38th minute lead against the run of play, courtesy of a Thomas Partey mistake. The Ghanaian’s pass out of defence was short, Victor Sanchez was alert to steal the ball and squared to Sergi Darder, who silenced the Atleti faithful.
The hosts drew level in first-half stoppage time and raised the Wanda Metropolitano decibel levels, Diego Lopez misjudging Alvaro Morata’s chipped cross and Angel Correa heading home from close range. The referee’s assistant originally ruled that Morata was offside, however a VAR check proved that decision to be wrong and the goal was given.
While VAR was kind to Atleti in the first half, the opening of the second period saw the referee consulting the pitch-side screen and rule that David Lopez had not fouled Felipe as a free kick came into the Espanyol box. Diego Simeone’s wry smile said it all, as they were unlucky not to receive a penalty.
Morata made amends for his earlier miss in the 58th minute, smartly bending Vitolo’s well-timed through ball beyond the Espanyol goalkeeper to make it 2-1 and continue his remarkable scoring streak. Koke added another in stoppage time to seal the victory, as Atleti scored three goals for just the second time this season.
Key Talking Point
Diego Simeone shouldered the blame for the insipid Champions League performance in Leverkusen, stating that he needed to improve. That seemed to be reflected in El Cholo’s team selection on Sunday afternoon, as he moved Correa into a striker role at Diego Costa’s expense and restored Vitolo on the wing.
It paid dividends from the off, the pair driving at the Espanyol defence to create space and allow Atleti to move the ball with more tempo. It was Vitolo’s through ball that presented Morata with a golden opportunity, which he sadly wasted, and Correa’s determination that ensured he was on the goal line to benefit from Diego Lopez’s howler.
Atléti have had a much better first half than many of the recent games. Vitolo has made a big difference, his energy, directness is vital.
Said before the game Thomas could do with a rest and it’s showing, mistakes creeping in. Saul, Correa, Morata, Felipe all great.
— AU (@parteyismo) November 10, 2019
Accused of being a one-half team at times this season, there was no decline in the Atleti energy levels or tempo in the second half. Alvaro Morata linked up well with Vitolo and Correa, as the pair continued to pull the Espanyol back three out of position.
Their impressive trio were withdrawn in the final 15 minutes, but their replacements followed in their footsteps. Demonstrated by Diego Costa and Koke driving into the Espanyol box to add the third in stoppage time.
Starting XI: Oblak (7); Tripper (7), Felipe (8), Hermoso (8), Saul (6); Koke (7), Thomas (6), Herrera (7), Vitolo (9*); Correa (8), Morata (8)
Substitutes: Lemar (6), Costa (6), Llorente (5)
The Atletico fans essentially nominated Vitolo for star player themselves, chanting his name as he left the pitch and was replaced by Thomas Lemar. Los Rojiblancos have laboured in recent weeks, struggling to create, struggling to score and leaving viewers struggling to stay awake.
Vitolo was the conduit for a much-improved attacking display, setting the tempo in the 8th minute by running through the Espanyol defence and testing Diego Lopez. This was a theme of his performance, driving runs that created space for Morata and Correa who returned the favour on a number of occasions.
If Lemar had the same mentality as Vitolo (yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying this), in terms of his willingness and determination to run at the defence, Lemar wouldn’t be flopping
— (@sIicktaIk) November 10, 2019
Then there was the small matter of his impeccably-timed through ball for Morata, which glided through the opposition defenders and gave his striker a chance to atone for wasting a similarly slick pass in the first half. On both occasions Vitolo had cleverly drifted inside from the flank, seeming to have been given that freedom by Simeone, and it worked to remarkable effect.
If Simeone is intent on improving, his next decision has to be keeping Vitolo, Correa and Morata in the team for their next La Liga fixture with Granada.
Morata in the form of his life right now. Absolute beauty of a pass from Vitolo and even better finish. Great sequence there.
— Sam Arregui (@The_Ambassad0r) November 10, 2019
Quite a lot of whistles for Lemar as he comes on. Fans making it clear they like Vitolo more.
— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) November 10, 2019
Starting XI: Diego Lopez (5); Naldo (5), Espinosa (6), David Lopez (5); Rios (6), Sanchez (7*), Roca (6), Gomez (5); Wu (7), Darder (7), Ferreyra (6)
Substitutes: Vila (6), Campunzao (5), Melendo (5)
A trio of difficult fixtures awaits Atletico Madrid following the international break. An away trip to Granada and Barcelona’s visit to Wanda Metropolitano take place either side of a Champions League tie at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium.
Espanyol welcome Getafe domestically, before their Europa League trip to Ferencvaros.