Diego Simeone took charge of his 500th game at Atlético Madrid on Wednesday and celebrated it with a victory. A narrow one, but sufficient. Luis Suárez, a gift that fell from the sky last summer, scored the only goal of the game. An immense number nine, who arrived from Barcelona for a nominal fee and vacated a role now filled by Martin Braithwaite. Ten points now separate the sides that contain Suárez and Braithwaite, and Atlético have a game in hand. It wasn’t a vintage performance from Atleti, who were on the ropes towards the end. In the absence of Kieran Trippier, Marc Cucurella, another former Barcelona cadet, had the freedom of his flank. But any side that has an excellent number nine has a jewel in the crown and Suárez settled the game with a thumping header from a training ground concoction.
Suárez’s goal was made even more important by Madrid’s subsequent failure to take all three points at Elche, a slip-up that interrupted a run of six consecutive Liga victories. Zidane maintained the side that had driven that set of results with only two changes, both on the left where he handed responsibility to Marcelo and Marco Asensio. The Brazilian was active in attack but a sieve in defence. Asensio was involved intermittently. Madrid’s goal originated from the Spain international’s deflected shot, which hit Elche defender Edgar and fell obligingly for Luka Modric to head home off the crossbar. It was a relatively early goal and led Madrid to fall into a false sense of security. The visitors assumed the second would come on it’s own, but goals require work.
Modric the only spark for lacklustre Madrid
Even more so against Elche, who are a well-organized side. Jorge Almirón, who was absent from the touchline due to covid-19, has forged a good team, who dropped back in order and hit well on the break. Iván Marcone delivered a masterclass. Elche’s main issue is a lack of goals but Dani Carvajal gifted one from the penalty spot for a too long and far too obvious shirt pull. Fidel made no mistake from 12 yards. What followed was an exhibition of impotence from Madrid. Only Modric played well; Karim Benzema on this occasion failed to have an impact, Eden Hazard came off the bench but did nothing and the clock wound down as Zidane’s side launched a series of blunt and unimaginative attacks. In the end it was a deserved draw and a cause for cheer at both Elche and Atlético Madrid.