Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed his team’s new competition for places in attack, after Tuesday evening’s 3-0 Copa del Rey win over third-tier Lleida sealed a 7-0 passage to the quarterfinals.
In a low tempo-game, thanks to Atletico’s 4-0 first leg advantage, the returning Diego Costa was again heavily involved, providing an excellent assist from which Yannick Carrasco opened the scoring on 57 minutes.
Substitute Angel Correa soon set up up fellow replacement Kevin Gameiro (who had replaced Costa) for 2-0, and ex-Sevilla winger Vitolo then got his first goal for Atletico by hammering home a near post shot after running onto a Fernando Torres ball over the top.
That meant that in three games since Costa and Vitolo became available for selection, both signings have scored, as have other attackers Fernando Torres, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa, Gameiro and Carrasco.
That’s quite a change to the autumn, when the team’s bluntness in attack led directly to their surprise Champions League group exit.
The Rojiblanco coach said he was proud that his club had such competition for places in attack, and now hoped his team would continue to progress in the Copa and Europa League so he would have enough games to give them all game-time.
“I am happy that in six years since I arrived at Atletico to have achieved such competition for places,” Simeone said. “I am proud that we have top players like Gameiro, Costa, Correa, Griezmann and Torres.
“I hope I can manage it as best as possible, to do that we have to keep winning. The more we win, the more games we play, the more chances.”
Costa’s latest Atletico appearance brought none of the drama or controversy of his two previous games this week, but he impressed again with an excellent assist for Carrasco’s opener and could yet have his sending off against Getafe last weekend overturned to allow him to face Eibar in La Liga on Saturday.
“I have no doubt that Costa has been the most important player who has come to Atletico in recent years,” Simeone said. “I have no influence over the appeal, that does not depend on us.”
Ahead of Friday’s quarterfinal draw, which could pair Atletico with stumbling city rivals Real Madrid, Simeone said he expected Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane would get his talented squad back in form quickly.
“I will not give my opinion about Madrid but they are still the best team in the world, they have won a lot lately,” he said. “Football is about moments, and coaches do not get too happy when things go well, or get too upset when things do not go as expected. Maintaining that balance is the most important, and most difficult in sport.”
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