Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed his attacking trident of Diego Costa, Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro after all three attackers were involved in the goals in Sunday evening’s 2-0 La Liga home win against Athletic Bilbao.
A tight game was still 0-0 on the hour mark when Simeone sent on another forward, Gameiro, for midfielder Koke. And within 10 minutes the substitute had calmly placed home a shot from a perfectly timed and weighted Griezmann assist.
Costa then wrapped up the points late on, taking advantage of a mistake by young Leones defender Unai Nunez to race clear and slam his shot into the net at the near post.
The Rojiblanco boss told the postgame news conference that playing Costa and Gameiro together in attack was possible when Griezmann took up a more withdrawn playmaking role.
“Gameiro is in good form, with important games and goals, and with pace in the final third of the pitch,” Simeone said. “In the middle it is not so easy to compensate, but the position of Griezmann allows you to have two destabilising players [up front] and Griezmann can see their movements. The change with Gameiro gave us something more. We were always close to opening the scoring, but in the end, that was when it came.”
Atletico have still just lost once in La Liga all season, and have taken 19 points from the past 21 available. Sunday’s result kept them secure in second spot in the table, albeit seven points behind clear leaders Barcelona, who Simeone’s side visit on March 4.
“Before going to Barcelona we have some very important games,” Simeone said. “We are on the right path, competing well, and being ready. We have a competitive team. Today Juanfran did not play, the other day it was Thomas. When they respond well, the group as a whole benefits. I make decisions as I want to win, for sure.”
Atletico have still not had a penalty in La Liga this season, and Simeone was angered again when the officials appeared to miss a foul by visiting defender Nunez on Costa in the first half.
“The more we talk about this, the worse for the officials,” the former Atletico midfielder said. “Because they come here thinking of it, reading about it, people tell them … the more we talk, the fewer penalties they will give us.”
The one low point from the day for Atletico was young defender Lucas Hernandez being replaced by Diego Godin at half-time with a hamstring injury later confirmed by the club.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan