As team news emerged ahead of Atletico Madrid’s blockbuster Champions League tie with Liverpool on Tuesday night, one decision was the talk of the surroundings of the Wanda Metropolitano – Luis Suarez was on the bench.
It should have been no surprise given that the 34-year-old had played three games with Uruguay during the international break – including 90 minutes against Brazil on Friday night. Yet this was one of the first major fixtures that Los Colchoneros had faced in which Diego Simeone dared to rest his first choice centre-forward. In his absence, Antoine Griezmann returned to the team.
With Suarez’s contract up in the summer of 2022 – and seemingly unlikely to be extended – the front pairing of Griezmann and Joao Felix is one that Atletico fans better get used to. If they came to any judgements from this clash, it’s a future to get excited about.
João Félix did so well for Antoine Griezmann‘s second goal tonight. Showed strength and conviction to hold on to the ball and shrug off Naby Keïta before finding the Frenchman with a clipped, direct pass. Looks like an interesting partnership, those two.
— Alan Feehely (@azulfeehely) October 20, 2021
The movement between the two was electric, with Felix drifting wide to create space in the middle for Griezmann to run into from deep. Add in Rodrigo de Paul in midfield, with unrivalled vision, and Atletico have an impressive formula.
After the initial defensive chaos which eventually cost the hosts, Atleti came into their own with free-flowing football that ran through the attacking pair. Griezmann scored two – one with a magnificent turn to take him past Virgil Van Dijk after fine work by Felix – and could have scored more. Alisson had to be at his best to stop the number eight even before the equaliser.
Inevitably – like with all things Griezmann at Atletico – fans just can’t have nice things. A foolish red card for the Frenchman, over which there could be little debate despite the protests, ended his evening early, and with it Atletico’s hopes of emerging with all three points.
With Suarez on as a substitute, Atletico looked more lethargic and direct in their approach. Waiting on the shoulder of the last man, he was caught offside or outmanoeuvred by smooth operators Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk. The spark that Felix and Griezmann had brought was replaced with a damp fizzle.
— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) October 19, 2021
The connection between Griezmann and Felix is a promising one. With Griezmann’s loan almost certain to be made permanent, they will lead the Atletico frontline for years to come. After initial concerns as to how Felix would take the return of the man he arrived to replace, the pair seem to have clicked.
Performances like this one, with Felix bringing the magic yet again after impressing against Barcelona, gives hope for a bright future. While neither fits the prolific poacher mould of Suarez or the battler style of Diego Costa, they bring fresh air to the Atletico attack. They bring a style which matches that of Marcos Llorente and Yannick Carrasco bombing down the flanks and that can capitalise on De Paul’s vision in midfield.
Tuesday’s result will have disappointed Atletico Madrid fans, but they will be coming away with no shortage of excitement for the future regardless thanks to Simeone’s dynamic attacking duo.