Why Angel Correa Could Prove to Be a Key Part of Atletico Madrid's Squad This Season
When Antoine Griezmann was sent off at Girona last weekend, it felt like a terminal blow for Atletico Madrid. A booking for a dive, and then another for calling the ref a "f***ing bottlejob", the scorer of a large percentage of the club's goals in the last three seasons was off the pitch, with his side 2-0 down.
But the visitors forged what had seemed an unlikely comeback, and seemed almost freed up by the loss of their focal point, their talisman. At the centre of the resurgence was a man who had been introduced ten minutes before Griezmann's sending off: Angel Correa.
The Argentinian forward scored an excellent individual goal to put Atletico back into contention, embarking on a driving run towards the box before unleashing a powerful 18-yard effort past Gorka Iraizoz.
It was a telling moment for Diego Simeone's side. At times it had seemed they had prioritised picking out Griezmann too much, as if he was their only goalscoring option. And that's been a noticeable issue, not just against Girona, but throughout recent seasons.
Correa found the net again on Saturday, with a well-taken finish against Las Palmas, and again looked lively playing in a more central, forward area. With Griezmann still suspended for Atletico's trip to Valencia, another similarly encouraging performance, particularly if it brings another goal, would be invaluable.
It's not just the goals, though. Correa has brought an increased directness to Atletico's attack, most notable when he lifted what had been a lethargic, laboured display against Girona. His movement has caused problems, his pace and elusive dribbling ability. Against Las Palmas, his goal came after wriggling his way through the challenges of four of the hosts' defenders.
Correa remains relatively unproven, still very much a prospect, but there is a feeling that this could be his true breakthrough season given the circumstances at Atletico. Fernando Torres is now 33 and inevitably on the decline, Luciano Vietto is yet to impress after a loan spell at Sevilla, and Griezmann cannot be solely relied upon.
Meanwhile, the transfer saga surrounding Diego Costa has not yet reached its conclusion, and if the combative Spaniard does make a return to the Spanish capital, he will be unable to play until January.
Correa's performances then, could prove vital, something Simeone may have acknowledged when he called for "consistency" from the 22-year-old. "Angel remains an exciting prospect," Simeone said. "We are waiting for him to find consistency, over time. He can change games for you, and not all players can do that. We have spoken with him in preseason. This is an important year for him, he must take another step.
"He has pace, turns well, dribbles, shoots, is a very complete player. We already know he can make the difference coming off the bench, but he must play consistently for 90 minutes."
Atletico's negativity in the early stages against Girona in their opening game came under criticism, and with it came calls for more aggression, more confidence to take the game to less reputable opposition. At Las Palmas it was clear they had taken note, with Correa very much at the heart of a blistering first five minutes.
He faded slightly as the game progressed, although he contributed to moves when dropping deeper and occasionally into wide areas. But he has looked most dangerous in the box, driving at defenders and bearing down on goal.
Valencia at the Mestalla will provide a more difficult test of Correa's progress and the aforementioned consistency, but he has shown so far this campaign that he could be a valuable part of the Los Colchoneros setup in the weeks to come.