Atletico Madrid advanced into the Champions League knockout stages by comfortably defeating Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.
An early penalty miss by Kieran Trippier was rectified when Atletico won another penalty which was coolly converted by Joao Felix, and the home team remained totally on top as Felipe doubled the lead shortly after the break with a well-taken volley.
It was a much-needed victory for Atletico, and the manner of their performance more than just the result should give them confidence for the weeks ahead. Our talking points from the action kick off by explaining what they did right.
Atletico find the right path
If Atletico were in a mini-crisis after a poor run of results which had seen them fail to score in their previous three games and drop down to seventh in La Liga, they certainly didn’t show any sign of nerves or pressure as they produced a hugely positive performance full of attacking intent.
Right from the opening whistle, Diego Simeone’s men played at a furious tempo to push Lokomotiv back, with the overwhelmed visitors conceded two penalties in the opening 15 minutes and then seeing a goal by Alvaro Morata ruled out for a narrow offside.
With Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier flying down the flanks, Morata linking play beautifully, Saul and Thomas Partey controlling the centre of the pitch and Joao Felix probing dangerously, Atletico looked capable of scoring at any moment and presented a far more menacing picture than the tame bunch who have largely underperformed so far this season.
They eased off in the second half and the poor level of opposition has to be taken into consideration, but the pace and purpose of Atletico’s performance gives them a template to follow.
⏱ 93' [ 2-0 ] ⏹ FT at the Wanda @Metropolitano!— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) December 11, 2019
Our team qualify for the @ChampionsLeague last 16 🔥
Thanks for supporting us all over the world, Atleti Family! 👏
🔴⚪ #AúpaAtleti pic.twitter.com/K6MHJwhBde
Joao Felix delivers the goods
Joao Felix headed into the game under growing pressure to start living up to his club record transfer fee, and the Portuguese starlet delivered the goods with a sparkling performance suggesting he is more than capable of living up to the hype.
He needed less than a minute to make his mark, darting onto a ball from Morata inside the area and tempting Lokomotiv keeper Anton Kochenkov into a clumsy challenge to win a penalty which was missed by Kieran Trippier. A couple of minutes later Felix produced a sumptuous nutmeg to create danger on the byline, before again showing he was in the mood with a snapshot from the edge of the box which was blocked.
His bright start got even better after 15 minutes when he netted the opener by slotting Atletico’s second penalty into the bottom left corner, showing he was perfectly prepared to accept responsibility in a big moment when he could have easily waited for a more senior player to step up.
The 20-year old continued to shine throughout, regularly posing an incisive attacking threat in a performance which should give him the confidence needed to keep on living up to his billing.
Joao Felix has Atletico on the way to the last 16 🌟 pic.twitter.com/s953jNAgvC— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 11, 2019
Outclassed Lokomotiv worthy of Champions League berth?
Lokomotiv exited the competition with barely a whimper, looking as though this was a game they didn’t really want to play in the knowledge they were already condemned to finish bottom.
The Russian side were not alone. In a group stage which saw 10 of the 24 teams gain a combined total of just four victories, it’s tempting to wonder whether the competition would benefit from a change in format.
UEFA is already considering implementing changes from 2024, and on this year’s evidence it’s hard to argue that the lesser teams like Lokomotiv, Lille, Genk and Galatasaray (one win between them) can compete with the continent’s elite. Money, of course, is the root of the problem, and in an ideal world the minnows would become financially more competitive with the big boys. Without that happening, though, keeping teams of roughly the same level together would provide more exciting games.
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