Antoine Griezmann insists Atletico Madrid winning the Super Cup justifies his decision to extend his stay at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
The 27-year-old was a key target for La Liga champions Barcelona, but announced he would stay at Atletico during the World Cup.
The French international produced a mixed performance in Wednesday’s Super Cup win in Tallinn, replaced after 57 minutes as he continues to build up his fitness levels ahead of the new season.
Diego Costa’s superb brace and goals in extra time from Saul Niguez and Koke saw Los Rojiblancos overcome their Madrid rivals.
“I stayed because there was a good project,” Griezmann said to Movistar.
“I have confidence in this club, in Diego (Simeone)… Today I saw that I was not wrong.
“I was a running in water a bit because it was my second game.
“In the end the important thing was to get ahead on the scoreboard, we made a very complete final.
“We know that physically the two teams have not reached 100 per cent, the key was the desire to win.
“It was time for us to win the UEFA Super Cup again, it was very important to start the season like this.”
Julen Lopetegui stressed Real Madrid “have to improve in all facets” after their first competitive match under his management saw them suffer a 4-2 extra-time defeat to bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Atleti’s Saul Niguez and Koke struck in quick succession in the additional period at Tallinn’s A. Le Coq Arena following a 2-2 draw in normal time.
Real had been 2-1 up, with Karim Benzema cancelling out Diego Costa’s first-minute opener and Sergio Ramos then converting a 63rd-minute penalty, before Costa netted his second of the contest to draw things level.
Lopetegui told AS in his post-match press conference: “We had good game phases but it was not enough.
“We have to congratulate Atletico, I believe that they have won deservedly.
“We are not happy and the negative is that we have conceded four goals and this is not normal. This will have to be improved, without a doubt.
“We have to improve in all facets, we do not like when we make mistakes and we have to improve in everything, not only in individual errors.
“(It is a) feeling of frustration and sadness. But knowing that responsibility forces us to get up and try to improve and start the league as we want to start.”
Real, having not only seen Lopetegui’s predecessor Zinedine Zidane but also club record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo depart the club over the summer, begin their 2018-19 La Liga campaign on Sunday when they host Getafe.
While they have won the Champions League in each of the last three years and four of the last five, they have claimed the La Liga title only once in that time, and finished third last term.
Lopetegui said when asked about Real’s hunger having won the Champions League so many times: “We want to focus on the season without thinking about the last years and get the best out of the team.
“We want to get up now and think about the league, which makes us excited. The team has won few La Ligas in recent seasons and we want to start well.
“They are not less hungry for having won the Champions League. They were hungry, eager, excited to win this title.”
In truth it would be foolish to read too much into what was essentially an overblown pre-season fixture which finished level after 90 minutes, but the final outcome underlines the impression that Atletico should be taken very seriously this season – and perhaps that Real have lost some of their lustre.
Here are three big storylines to emerge from a compelling night in Tallinn.
Atletico flex their attacking muscles
Even though it was a pre-season game and many players on both teams were visibly exhausted by the end, scoring four goals against Real Madrid in any circumstances is no small achievement and Atletico can draw great confidence from their exploits in Estonia.
Victorious coach Diego Simeone can be even happier with the knowledge that Antoine Griezmann, who has often single-handedly carried his team’s attacking endeavours in the last couple of years, played little part as he made a low-key first start since the World Cup Final.
Instead of Griezmann, Atletico’s hero was Diego Costa, who scored a brilliant goal after just 50 seconds and then forced extra time with a late leveller – in addition to giving Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane a torrid time all night with his trademark battering ram approach.
But Costa wasn’t alone, with Thomas Lemar – of whom more shortly – and substitutes Angel Correa and Vitolo also playing significant roles. And that’s without even considering summer arrivals Gelson Martins and Nikola Kalinic, who did not taste action on this occasion but surely will over the next few months, further adding to a range of attacking options which is starting to look formidable.
Lemar the x-factor for Atletico
Although Simeone is chiefly known for his ability to instil brilliant defensive discipline, the Argentine coach is by no means oblivious of the need for a cutting edge, and he has always tried to find room for a maverick creative talent within his otherwise rock-solid structure.
During the early days of his reign that man was Arda Turan, whose ability to conjure something out of nothing played a major role in the 2013/14 title-winning season. When the Turkish talent headed to Barcelona he was replaced by Yannick Carrasco, but the Belgian international had more bad games than good and was offloaded last season.
Now, the task of giving Atletico’s attack that crucial something different has fallen to summer signing Thomas Lemar, and the former Monaco man passed his initial audition with flying colours in Tallinn.
Particularly notable was the way he repeatedly dropped into pockets of space in midfield to receive short passes to his feet, allowing him to spark attacks by turning and running at the Real defence with his excellent and creative dribbling ability. The Frenchman could prove to be a masterstroke signing.
Fluidity and flexibility in Real’s forward line
Before the fatigue-induced collapse in the latter stages, the unveiling of Real’s post-Cristiano Ronaldo strike force demonstrated that new boss Julen Lopetegui is wasting no time in making his mark on the team and showing plenty of confidence in his players by employing a free-flowing and versatile 4-3-3 formation.
Nominally, the strategy saw Gareth Bale line up on the right wing with Marco Asensio on the left and Karim Benzema in the middle, and that was how the team’s first goal arrived as Bale charged down the wing and delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post for Benzema to convert.
However, the front three only spent a relatively small amount of time in that specific alignment with all three of them being given the freedom to roam and switch positions seemingly at will, illustrated when Asensio arrived at the near post to meet a Marcelo cross and nearly scored with a deft back-heel.
Allowing the forwards to take the initiative and interchange positions is not a million miles from the player-led coaching style of ex-boss Zinedine Zidane, with the notable difference, of course, that Ronaldo is no longer there to dominate the penalty area. So far it looks like his absence will give more freedom to everybody else…but his goals must be compensated for.