Football Features

“Dial M for Morata” – Five things learned as Atlético Madrid squeak by Bayer Leverkusen

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:15, 22 October 2019

In a low-key affair, Atlético Madrid beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The game was a stalemate for the majority but a substitute won it late on to give Atleti a massive three points in a tight Group D, what did we learn?

1. Dial M for Morata

Alvaro Morata has had a rough time of things lately. He’s played well since his move to Atlético Madrid but so far this season has just one goal this season. That’s underwhelming and also a big problem given how important he tends to be for Diego Simeone’s men.

With Morata so profligate, Diego Simeone had to turn to Diego Costa who was nowhere near sharp enough. So much so that in the second half Simeone was forced to turn to Morata off the bench. His sub saved him this time, however, with a wonderful run and a sublime header that gave Atleti the lead. It was vintage Morata, with all the timing and technique and neck power we’ve come to expect.

The strike was Morata’s first in the Champions League since September 2017. Ironically that goal also came in the Wanda Metropolitano, for Chelsea as they beat Atleti. Yeah, it was that long ago. Still, that streak is now over and having scored a late(ish) winner, Morata could now find a goalscoring rhythm that will transform Atleti’s fortunes.

2. Why Havertz?

Kai Havertz is one of the finest young talents in world football, and this summer was linked with many a superclub as his time a Leverkusen seemed to have come to an end. An explosive season under Peter Bosz saw the then-teenager score a remarkable 20 goals in 42 games across all competitions.

Havertz decided to stay in Leverkusen, however. And whilst that was hailed as a very smart move, tonight’s attacking performance against Atlético Madrid may give him pause for thought as it was clear that even against a misfiring Atleti there was little Leverkusen could do.

Even with a supreme talent like Havertz they rarely troubled the home side and the 20-year-old himself registered no shots, completed just 77.2% of his 57 passes and created 0 chances. This kind of offensive stagnation seemed to be the German side showing their limitations, limitations that could come back to haunt the magnificent Kai Havertz and his development. Maybe he shouldn’t have stayed so loyal to Leverkusen?

3. The Griezmann Problem

In the summer Atlético Madrid sold Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona for €120m. That money was reinvested in young prodigy Joao Felix, but even though the young Portuguese is an undoubted superstar, his profile is different to Griezmann. Felix is much more of a goalscorer, whereas Griezmann could score and create in equal measure.

This has left Atleti looking bereft of ideas in attack, because their main attacking conduit is no longer there. They can’t play through Felix the same way they played through Griezmann, and so they often spend games wandering aimlessly about as they did today.

In fact the key pass in the move for their only goal was Thomas Lemar’s Griezmann-esque pass from the centre out to the overlapping full-back Renan Lodi, so you can see how even with all the restructuring the team has gone through they are still set-up to function around a central left-footed chief creator in the final third. Can Lemar be that man? Or will Atleti’s Griezmann Problem continue?

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4. Leverkusen steady the ship

For a side that got absolutely hammered 3-0 at the weekend as Bayer Leverkusen did against Frankfurt, coming away to a tricky European opponent like Atlético Madrid wasn’t as bad as one would suspect.

In truth, Leverkusen actually played pretty well. Alright they were aided in their quest but some poor Atleti finishing, but at no point did Lucas Hradecky seem under siege. Even after falling behind, the German side were not overrun and continued to compete right up to the very end. That may seem like scant consolation as their qualification hopes are all but gone,  but in a tight Bundesliga race where only two points separate 1st and 9th place, maintaining a healthy, positive momentum could be priceless.

5. Fortress Wanda

Since the start of last season Atlético Madrid have lost just one competitive game at the Wanda Metropolitano, a loss to rivals Real Madrid in February 2019. Since then they were 14 matches unbeaten at the Wanda, and after tonight’s win that is now 15 games across all competitions.

In terms of Europe things are even more imposing as Diego Simeone’s men have lost just once at their new ground, two years ago they fell 1-2 to Chelsea at the Wanda and that remains the only time in the Champions League and Europa League that anyone has come there and won.

No matter how bad Atleti may be, they will always have an almost impossible level of stability to them. Even before tonight’s win they had been really poor yet all that amounted to was four straight home draws; no defeats. Along with Barcelona and Liverpool they have one of the biggest home advantages of any of the genuine contenders for the Champions League, and that could help them in their quest to finally claim Europe’s top prize.