By Cillian Shields l @pile_of_eggs
Thrill, explosiveness, quality; Luis Suárez’s glorious 20 minute debut for Atletico Madrid provides a blueprint to how Los Rojiblancos will attack and find success this season, as he could be the final missing piece of the puzzle that Diego Simeone has been looking for.
An assist with his first touch as an Atletico player, quickly followed up by two goals for himself, – plus a penalty won that was later taken away after a VAR review could just as easily have been given – almost everything Suárez touched in his first game with Atleti turned to goals. The Uruguayan hitman helped his new side to a 6-1 triumph in Atletico Madrid’s season opener against a Granada side who are far from pushovers.
The highlights you’ve been waiting for… 🍿
— LaLigaTV (@LaLigaTV) September 27, 2020
The last time Diego Simeone’s team scored as many goals in a league game was almost four years ago; a 7-1 home win, also against Granada, in match week eight of the 2016/17 season. Inspired and led by the former Barça striker, fans can expect Atleti to be a lot more free-scoring this season.
His class blinded the visitors with every touch. Even with his very first touch of a ball in a red-and-white shirt, he played Marcos Llorente through to score with a first-time pass to break through Granada’s defence with ease. Saúl won the ball in midfield picking up from a mishit Granada long pass and laid it off to Koke, who only needed one touch to set himself up and a second to play it forward to Suárez further ahead. The number 9’s majestic control completely split the defence and with just one more touch of the ball from Llorente the ball flew past Rui Silva and into the away team’s net.
Lightning quick, with only one or two touches from four different players, from midfield to the back of the net in seconds.
Shortly afterwards, Suárez appeared on the other side of another one-touch pass that left the defence for dead, running onto another ball from Koke for his first chance as an Atleti player, but the shot went just wide.
Moments later, the referee was pointing to the penalty spot after Suárez’s turn in the box led to contact from behind. Granada could not cope with the intensity. The penalty was overturned, but very shortly afterwards, the ball was in the back of the net as Suárez peeled away behind the shoulders of two defenders to head a Llorente cross home and celebrate his first goal in his new home ground.
Between linking up with teammates with first-time passes to burst through defences in hectically fast all-action moments, masterful close control in the box while bearing down on goal, and clever movement to find space that lesser players cannot see, Suárez brought so much impact to this Atletico Madrid side in his brief but glorious debut that promises a lot for the rest of the season.
Last season was a transitional one for Los Colchoneros. The spine of their first team from the year before had been sold in the summer of 2019, and a host of new starters needed to get accustomed to life in Madrid, life in Spanish football, the style of play, and Atletico Madrid’s training regime.
João Félix endured a huge step up from the Portuguese Liga NOS and dazzled on occasion last season, although he lacked the consistency to put him in the world’s top bracket of players. Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier could be considered successes, but no doubt the learning curve was steep for the full backs. It took Marcos Llorente most of the campaign to really find his feet, which unexpectedly seems to be in a new position further forward, behind the strikers.
The first half against Granada belonged to the young Portuguese number seven, João Félix. His range of passing and ability to break away from defenders applying pressure tormented Granada and set the tempo for the eventual hammering.
It is very easy to focus on Suárez, given the huge 6-1 scoreline, his two goals and an assist, and the media draw he has after arriving from FC Barcelona, but for 70 minutes, Félix was the star of this game with a statement dominant performance that suggests the 20-year-old is ready to step up again this year. The second half, though, was unquestionably Suárez’s.
Despite last season being interrupted by the pandemic and the pre-season being shortened, a year of working with Simeone and fitness coach profe Ortega will have been hugely beneficial for all of Atletico Madrid’s new players, especially considering that theirs is not a setup that players easily walk into. The team look like they are growing and evolving together and could be very exciting this year.
Los Colchoneros were a very smart outfit after the lockdown break. They were facing the serious threat of failing to qualify for the Champions League, given the great campaigns from Sevilla and Villarreal, but Simeone’s marches looked extremely well focussed after the break, and went unbeaten with seven wins from the final 11 matches to ensure their presence in Europe’s premiere competition this season.
The only thing they lacked, which was shown in that Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig in Lisbon, was a killer up front that they could trust not to spurn chances. Diego Costa hasn’t looked the same player Atleti know and love since he returned to the club, and while Alvaro Morata is liked and respected in the club, he fails to convince in the most important moments, and has been strongly linked with a move away from Madrid this summer.
Luis Suárez and Atletico Madrid is a partnership that makes so much sense. One of the finest goal scorers in Spain even despite his knee injuries, and one that battles hard every minute he is on the pitch. Culturally, he is an immediate fit. He brings experience, brawn, and quality, even though he is already 33 and no longer has the same burst of pace as he once did.
Sure, Simeone will have to set his team up in a way that limits Suárez’s running and lets him stay as the focal point up front, but if Llorente can provide an engine behind the main frontman, and Félix can offer a magical spark, this new-look Atleti will be a force to be reckoned with.
Where does Suárez’s departure leave Barcelona?
On Barcelona’s side of the transfer, the value is a lot less clear. Between them, the departures of Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal – three key first team players and one of their undoubted all-time best – brought in a combined €1.5m in up front transfers fees for Barcelona. For a team that needs to balance the books more than most in the time of the pandemic, and with an urgent need to generate funds to rejuvenate a rapidly deteriorating squad, these deals represent bad business.
Certainly, there is an argument to be made that these players had become negative equity – worth getting rid of because of their high wages, even if it meant accepting no transfer fee. And it is true that some objectives in the deals for Suárez at Atletico Madrid and Rakitic at Sevilla will almost certainly see Barça reap some more cash, but this quantity is likely to hit a ceiling at roughly €10m. What’s more, this amount will only be delivered over the next couple of years, something not ideal for a club that had to get involved in a financial sleight-of-hand with Juventus with the transfers of Artur Melo and Miralem Pjanic boosting each club’s balance sheets for the previous season.
Even though he can score bags of goals, having Suárez and Messi in the same team led to a front line completely unable to apply any real form of pressure on opposition teams looking to play out of the back. At the highest level of the game nowadays, teams cannot accommodate two passengers when off the ball. For that reason, planning a new team without Suárez makes a certain amount of sense.
But the problems at the Blaugrana are much wider and multifaceted than merely refreshing the squad, as the management of the club reaching up to the very highest office in the institution is a shambles.
Letting your third-all time goal scorer move to a direct domestic and continental rival is bad enough, but announcing to the world weeks prior and ostracizing the player publicly only indicates to any potential buyer that your top priority is getting him out of your club which ensures a minimal transfer fee is received.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu effectively handed all negotiating power in the deals for Suárez, Rakitic, and Vidal to Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, and Inter respectively.
Ansu Fati and Messi on target as @FCBarcelona start the season with a 4-0 win! 💙🔥❤️
— LaLigaTV (@LaLigaTV) September 27, 2020
In their season opener, however, these problems did not surface, as Koeman’s men easily dispatched Unai Emery’s Villarreal 4-0, with all goals coming before the break to kill off all hope. Ansu Fati looked very bright with two goals and a penalty won.
Zinedine Zidane keeps us all guessing. After bending his formation to accommodate Martin Odegaard in a position between the forward and midfield lines, this week he played two strikers up front, with Luka Jovic joining Benzema in the starting line-up, with something of a 4-3-1-2 system. In Madrid’s season opener, while searching for a goal, he chose instead to give two young wingers their debuts instead of bringing on the €60m Serbian striker. They overcame Real Betis in a brilliant back-and-forth clash that ended 2-3, but it is better for this column not to dwell on questionable penalty calls for the bigger teams.
Newly-promoted Huesca, in only their second season ever in the top flight, will have been bitterly disappointed not to come away from Valencia with a win. That sentence alone is remarkable, but it speaks volumes about the context in which Los Che find themselves at the moment. Huesca performed excellently in Mestalla, out-passing, outshooting, and outplaying the home side. An impressive team performance from Míchel’s men that will give them encouragement.
Mikel Merino and Joan Jordan provided two magnificent assists from midfielders this weekend, for Real Sociedad and Sevilla respectively. Merino may have been learning from his new friend David Silva, who played similar passes deep behind Elche’s defensive line for runners to latch onto all game, but it was Merino’s delivery that provided the key for the first goal. A brilliant drag-back just outside the corner of the box opened up the necessary space away from his marker, before his pass cut through the backline for Portu to finish.
In Cádiz, Sevilla wiped away their European Super Cup tears with a victory in the Andalusian derby to kick off their La Liga campaign. The home side stood resolute and firm for 90 minutes, but just as the game was drawing to a close, the centre back pairing dropped concentration for a split second and left a gap ever so slightly too wide. From his own half of the pitch, Joan Jordan fed a through ball brilliantly between Mauro and Cala at the heart of the Cádiz defense, and Munir made no mistake one-on-one.
Watch all this weekend’s highlights from 1pm, FREE on #LaLigaTV until Oct 15th! 📺
— LaLigaTV (@LaLigaTV) September 28, 2020
Goal of the week: Gonzalo Melero’s beautiful-cushioned volley for Levante to equalise away to Osasuna on the way to a 1-3 victory.