Atletico Madrid reignited its title chase in La Liga with a scrappy win over Rayo Vallecano.
Atletico Madrid ended a three-game winless league run at the Wanda Metropolitano stretching back to last season on Saturday evening as it continued its dominance over local rivals Rayo Vallecano with a 1-0 win.
5.8 miles of Madrid city separates the two clubs geographically, and despite what would be expected on paper, on the pitch, the gap was even closer; with both sides failing to capture their best form at any point in the contest.
Antoine Griezmann's scrappy close-range finish in typical poacher fashion epitomized the lack of quality in the tie; one which will not live long in the memory of many.
Atletico Madrid - Key Talking Point
What Title Challenge?
"I have Atletico Madrid as favorites for both La Liga and the Champions League," Marca's Chris Winterburn claimed earlier this month.
It was an outlandish but conceivable statement ahead of a ball being kicked. The addition of Thomas Lemar to finally put into practice the demands of Diego Simeone which Yannick Carrasco simply couldn't, keeping Antoine Griezmann from Barcelona's grasp and Jose Giminez from Real Madrid's, as well as solidifying problem areas from last term.
However, the campaign is only 180 minutes old, Atleti's league form from the second half of last season - in which they captured just five points less than Barça—has, so far, been absent.
An underwhelming showing during their 1-1 draw with Valencia last Monday, followed by an uninspiring derby day victory over Rayo Vallecano; a title-bound outfit, at this moment, they are not.
As already mentioned, toward the business end of last year the consistency was there from the Wanda Metropolitano collective, not just in results, but guarantees in a certain standard of performance throughout every 90 minutes, both in La Liga and elsewhere.
However, their downfall—which allowed the Catalonians to eventually lift their seventh top-flight silverware in the past decade at something of a canter—came during the first half of the campaign, and if Atleti are to replicate their feats from 2014, Simeone must address his side's lack of intent quickly, particularly against the likes of Rayo Vallecano.
Starting XI: Jan Oblak (8); Juanfran (6), Stefan Savic (7), Diego Godin (6), Lucas Hernandez (6); Angel Correa (6), Hernández Cascante (6), Saul Niguez (6), Thomas Lemar (7); Antoine Griezmann (7), Diego Costa (5)
Substitutes: Thomas Partey (6), Koke (6), Gelson Martins (6)
It was difficult to label a 'star man' during what was a quality-barren 90 minutes; however, when Rayo came knocking in the latter moments, Jan Oblak stood tallest.
For over an hour the Slovenian was left untouched, with the 25-year-old at one point in the first half retaining the ball at his feet for longer than necessary; seemingly attempting to remind himself what the ball felt like.
However, the stopper provided a match-winning save with stoppage time imminent, as he denied Sergio Moreno's fizzing attempt from close range to make sure Atletico's home campaign started with maximum points.
As hard as it was naming a star man, it is equally as troublesome labeling Atleti's 'worst player' of the night, with a generally disappointing standard set across the board for the most part.
However, Diego Costa was particularly ineffective throughout the 90 minutes—a surprise considering his impressive pre-season.
Yet, despite the Costa's typical testing runs and levels of effort, it proved to be meat and drink for both Abdoulaye Ba and Jordi Amat, who looked comfortable up against the potent frontman.
Starting XI: Alberto Garcia Cabrera (7); Luis Advincula (7), Abdoulaye Ba (8), Jordi Amat (7), Lopera Alex Moreno (7); Santiago Comesana (6), Gorka Elustondo (6), Gael Kakuta (6) (6), Adri Embarba (7), Alvaro Garcia Rivera (6); Oscar Trejo (7)
Substitutes: Alvaro Medran (6), Jose Pozo (6), Sergio Moreno (N/A)
Despite the result, Simeone will be disappointed with his side's first home showing of the season.
Yes—it is early days, they walked away with maximum points, and derby fixtures are always different. However, Rayo—coming into the game off the back of an opening day 4-1 hammering from Sevilla—offered very little in any department, yet it took over an hour for Los Colchoneros to break the newly-promoted side down.
The Argentine's reaction to Griezmann's opener, in which he remained motionless and only thought was to delay a substitution, portrayed an unimpressed figure and one who knows his side are still some way away from the Europa League-winning force they were last season.