With help for Griez­mann, Atletico Madrid eyes ti­tle with new at­tack

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Diego Sime­one can scoff all he wants at the sug­ges­tion that his Atletico Madrid team has be­come a for­mi­da­ble at­tack­ing side.

But the num­bers, and the added threats he now de­ploys, don’t lie. The team that Sime­one long forged into a de­fen­sive ma­chine could just score its way to a ti­tle in 2016-17.

The im­prove­ment in at­tack is thanks to the con­tin­ued growth of An­toine Griez­mann and the emer­gence of a pair of part­ners to share the scor­ing bur­den the France stand­out has shoul­dered in re­cent cam­paigns. Yan­nick Car­rasco and Kevin Gameiro might just be the miss­ing in­gre­di­ents Atletico needs to suc­cess­fully cul­mi­nate an­other run at sil­ver­ware.

Sime­one, how­ever, in­sists that this lat­est in­car­na­tion of his team is true to his team-first phi­los­o­phy.

“I laugh when they say that now we are an at­tack­ing side and that now we are play­ing well,” Sime­one said. “The facts speak more than words.”

The Ar­gen­tine coach points back to his 2012 team that won the Europa League with Radamel Fal­cao in his prime. But hav­ing to reach that far back high­lights that miss­ing No. 9 since Diego Costa left Atletico for Chelsea fol­low­ing their sur­prise 2014 Span­ish league ti­tle.

But now Atletico ap­pears to have fi­nally found the help that Griez­mann lacked last sea­son when Atletico came up short in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal to Real Madrid and stum­bled in the league with two matches left.

This sea­son is barely two months old and Griez­mann, Car­rasco and Gameiro have com­bined for 18 goals.

No, they aren’t as glam­orous as Barcelona’s trio of Lionel Messi, Ney­mar and Luis Suarez or Madrid’s Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Ben­zema. Yet Atletico’s for­wards may be good enough, con­sid­er­ing the per­fectly bal­anced squad be­hind them with Jorge “Koke” Res­ur­rec­cion and Saul Niguez in mid­field, Diego Godin in de­fence, and goal­keeper Jan Oblak.

Atletico has main­tained the staunch de­fence that has de­fined it since Sime­one’s ar­rival in 2011, al­low­ing a league-low six goals through 10 matches this sea­son. But it has also scored 25 league goals, 10 more than at this point last sea­son.

Atletico is in third place in the league, three points be­hind Madrid, and leads its Cham­pi­ons League group af­ter three wins, in­clud­ing a vic­tory over Bay­ern Mu­nich. Atletico hosts Rus­sian club FC Ros­tov in the Euro­pean tour­na­ment to­day.

In the league, it has dished out lop­sided thrash­ings of 7-1, 5-0, 40 and 4-2, giv­ing it the best goal dif­fer­ence in the com­pe­ti­tion. Only Barcelona with 30 goals and Real Madrid with 28 have scored more.

That 4-2 re­sult came against Malaga on Satur­day, a vic­tory that fea­tured two goals apiece from Car­rasco and Gameiro.

Car­rasco’s goals show­cased his best weapon: speed.

The 23-year-old winger used a quick change of pace to wrong­foot his marker be­fore open­ing the scor­ing. He later sur­passed that with a breath­tak­ing solo ef­fort in the fi­nal min­utes when he over­took a de­fender with a blis­ter­ing sprint be­fore ri­fling home a pin-point shot from long range.

“I am very am­bi­tious,” said Car­rasco, who two weeks ago re­newed his con­tract through 2022. “Thanks to the team I am en­joy­ing a good stretch. I hope it con­tin­ues.”

Car­rasco has al­ready sur­passed his scor­ing to­tal for last cam­paign with seven goals. That in­cludes the Bel­gium in­ter­na­tional’s first ca­reer hat trick to fuel the 7-1 rout of Granada, and goals for 1-0 vic­to­ries over Bay­ern and Ros­tov.

“Car­rasco has grown thanks to work,” Sime­one said. “He works as hard as any­one. He con­tin­ues to grow and has a lot more to give. The best thing about Car­rasco is that he is now fully in­te­grated into the team. It’s not just about his goals.”

Gameiro’s two strikes against Malaga were his first multi-goal out­ing for Atletico since his ar­rival from Sevilla for a re­ported €30 mil­lion.

The in­vest­ment is pay­ing off as Gameiro set­tles into a side that has been miss­ing con­sis­tent goals from its striker po­si­tion. It got 22 league goals from Griez­mann in each of the last two sea­sons, but lacked a re­li­able sec­ond scorer af­ter Mario Mandzu­kic and Jack­son Martinez didn’t pan out.

Gameiro’s promis­ing start earned him a re­call from France for its World Cup qual­i­fiers. He didn’t dis­ap­point, scor­ing twice to lead its 4-1 win over Bul­garia on 7 Oc­to­ber.

And Gameiro be­lieves he has more to give his new team.

“We still haven’t seen the Gameiro of Sevilla,” he said. “I still need a bit more of con­fi­dence. Lit­tle by lit­tle I am honing my style and my team­mates are help­ing me a lot.”

Atletico’s An­toine Griez­mann, right, vies for the ball with Ros­tov’s An­drei Pre­pelita dur­ing a Cham­pi­ons League match Photo: AP

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