They love big and dramatic displays: 90+1', 90+6', 90+11 – three goals in added time brought the Estadio Metropolitano to fever pitch last Wednesday night. The closing stages between Atlético Madrid and Porto could go down as one of the craziest in the history of the Champions League. Eleven spectacular minutes was compensation for one and a half hours of meagre football. The Red and Whites did not have much idea up front for large parts of the game. Then everything went wild in the long period of added time. Mario Hermoso put the home side ahead with a deflected shot, five minutes later he gave away a penalty, which Porto's Uribe converted to level scores. Antoine Griezmann rounded off a crazy match with a headed goal. The two teams met in the group stage of the Champions League last season. Four red cards in two games – and three goals were scored from the 90th minute in the 3-1 win for Atléti at Porto.
The team led by coach Diego Simeone secured their first home win in La Liga on matchday five last Saturday night. Atletico beat Celta Vigo 4-1 and have now moved nearer the top spots after a patchy start to the season. After a 3-0 victory at Getafe in their opening match, the Colchoneros then lost their first home game against Villarreal. That was followed by a 1-0 win at Valencia and a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad. Alvaro Morata (3) and Antoine Griezmann (2) were the only goal scorers for the Red and Whites up to that point. In the win ahead of the clash in Leverkusen, Angel Correia (9'), Rodrigo de Paul (50') and Yannick Carrasco (66') scored for the first time this season. An own goal by Celta Vigo's Nunez (82') rounded off the scoring in the 4-1 victory. Atletico have climbed up to fourth spot in the table for the time being.
Simeone made six changes to his line-up against Celta Vigo last weekend in comparison to the match against Porto. Ivo Grbic replaced legendary keeper Jan Oblak in goal as he was feeling unwell. The captain Koke, who has played for the Red and Whites for twelve years winning eight titles along the way, was rested as was Joao Felix, the most expensive signing in the club's history. The up to that point ever present midfielder Marcos Llorente did not play. Antoine Griezmann, the French national hero, came on after the hour mark as is the norm this season. There is a special reason for that: If Atlético play the World Cup winner of 2018, on loan from Barcelona, for more than 45 minutes in over half of the games, they will have to buy Griezmann for a high, fixed amount. That is in a clause of the two-year loan deal. As Atlético already used some of the agreed ‘time budget’ for the Frenchman last season, the Rojiblancos can only play their striker sporadically. That means Griezmann usually comes on around the 62 minute mark – as a substitute he has scored twice in La Liga and was the key player at Porto in the Champions League. The record of the Frenchman in Europe's premier club competition is impressive: In 35 games for Atlético in the group stages, he has been involved in 28 goals (20 goals, eight assists).
The big club remains strong up front despite the departure of Luis Suarez who has returned to Uruguay. Alvaro Morata, recently on loan at Juventus, has been on top form with three goals so far this season on top of three in a friendly against Juve. Joao Felix has only been a reliable provider up to now (three assists) but he can be a winner on his own in any game. The Argentinian Angel Correa was top scorer for the Colchomeros last term with twelve goals (plus five assists). Axel Witsel is a newcomer to the team. The former Dortmund player has been brought in to provide more stability in defence and Simeone has played him in a back three or back five. On the flanks, Nahuel Molina, the 22-year-old new signing from Udinese, and the Belgian Yannick Carrasco are regular starters.
Uncompromising defending and quick counter-attacks have long been strengths of Atlético. In top gear, the Red and Whites are difficult to defend against. Celta Vigo also experienced that. The opening goal and the third came from two lightning fast attacks that combined direct passing and high individual quality (Carrasco). Not just uncompromising defenders. The team under coach Simeone also has great quality. But battling and commitment remain the foundations of the side.
Atléti conceded an unexpectedly high number of goals last season: The team let in 43 goals compared with 25 in the championship winning season of 2020/21. Even in the 4-0 win against Celta Vigo, the defence showed several weaknesses with misplaced passes again and again giving the opponents clear-cut opportunities. The conversion rate of the Madrid side also left something to be desired in previous matches.
There's no question Atlético are one of the favourites in Group B. The eleven-time champions of Spain and three-time Europa League winners (2010, 2012, 2018) who also dramatically lost to city rivals Real in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, again have an excellent squad in this campaign. It remains to be seen whether the at times susceptible defence can meet the demands of European football. The Simeone team will definitely be a tough opponent at the BayArena on Tuesday night.
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