Watch the video at the top of the article to see just how Atletico Madrid’s Champions League victory over Liverpool brought a chance to Marcos Llorente’s position.
Marcos Llorente was Real Madrid’s Casemiro back-up; a holding midfielder out of favour following Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu. So he made a cross-city switch to rivals Atletico.
There, he was set to take up the same role: add defensive steel to the midfield.
Atleti’s midfield is an asymmetrical four-man unit. Diego Simeone likes to have one winger and three central players. Koke and Saul were born on the teamsheet, so that leaves one more central place up for grabs between Llorente and Thomas Partey. But Simeone has a problem, and it’s in attack.
Antoine Griezmann left in the summer and Joao Felix arrived for €126 million and while the Portuguese has shown flashes of brilliance, he has struggled with injuries. Experiments with Angel Correa, Vitolo and Yannick Carrasco as a second striker have all been short-lived.
Llorente struggled in pre-season, he was sent off against Chivas and poor on the ball against Juventus. El Cholo was clear that Thomas was his first-choice holding midfielder.
It wasn’t until January against Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey that Llorente even played his first full 90 minutes. And even then he was still hauled off in extra-time as Atleti suffered a shock 2-1 defeat.
Llorente was linked with a move away in January, to Real Betis, but it never materialised. And then, Anfield happened.
That night at Anfield
A night so unforgettable that Llorente would name his dog after the sporting arena in which it took place. The Spaniard replaced Diego Costa just before the hour mark with Atleti one goal down, and everyone expected him to firm up the midfield. But he did the opposite.
In the early stages of extra-time, Roberto Firmino scored the second goal Liverpool needed to qualify, putting them 2-0 up on the night and 2-1 up on aggregate. But Llorente then came alive, scoring twice and assisting Alvaro Morata for Atleti’s game-winner.
He operated as a second striker, providing a connection between the midfield unit and the front line. Speaking a few months after the game, Simeone was high on praise of Llorente, saying: “Marcos never imagined himself being able to play as a forward.
“Watching him train, his technical and physical ability and his shooting gives us the option.”
Since Spanish football’s restart, Llorente has had more touches in the opposition box than any other Atleti player in La Liga and has been directly involved in the most shots for his team.
Over the past year, Llorente has undergone an interesting transformation. From Real Madrid’s unused No.6 to Atleti’s underwhelming pivot, then finally Simeone’s go-to support striker.
One famous European night at Anfield has changed Marcos Llorente’s career and may have awoken Atleti from their attacking nightmare.