There was a moment in the first half of Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw against Lokomotiv Moscow which was so quintessentially Luis Suarez, it defied parody. Forever sceptical of match officials, the Uruguayan snuck a glimpse of the VAR screen over the referee’s shoulder just to make sure the right decision was being made.
Suarez was booked for his trouble, venting and gesturing at the referee even after he had flashed the yellow card. Of course, the 33-year-old has long been regarded European football’s greatest pantomime villain. You sense on some level Suarez actually enjoys being cast in such a way, playing up to what is expected of him.
Atletico Madrid hope Suarez will also play up to what is expected of him as their new centre forward. Signed from Barcelona for a nominal fee due to the Catalan club’s desperation to get as many high earners off the wage bill as possible this summer, the Uruguayan has embarked on a new chapter of his career.
Diego Simeone, however, hopes the arrival of Suarez will allow Atleti to flick back a few pages in their recent history. Last season saw the capital club suffer something of an identity crisis. Simeone spoke of the need to evolve the ‘Cholismo’ ideology that had, until that point, defined his tenure at the club.
The signings made last summer reflected this necessity, with the €128 million splurged on the signing of Joao Felix from Benfica the clearest sign of Atletico Madrid’s new direction. Simeone recognised how difficult it was to maintain the club’s underdog spirit while shopping from the top shelf of the transfer market and playing in a shiny new, state-of-the-art mega stadium. Characterised as chasers, the idea was to turn Atleti into frontrunners.
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Despite the addition of €220 million worth of new talent, Atletico Madrid got stuck in ideological no man’s land, though - unable to play the expansive game Simeone had planned for and too far into the process to revert to their default. It was only when some familiar principles were restored towards the end of the season that Atleti started to string some results together, dumping Liverpool out of the Champions League and salvaging a third-place finish in La Liga.
Now, Simeone appears to be going back to what he knows best. Felix has been installed in the Antoine Griezmann role with Suarez signed to be Atletico Madrid’s new Diego Costa. No longer pre-occupied by notions of challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid in the expansiveness stakes, they are once again tough to beat - Atleti are La Liga’s only remaining unbeaten side this season.
Doubts linger over whether Suarez’s fading physicality will allow him to be the new Costa, but on the basis of his recent displays there is some merit to the idea. The growing understanding between the Uruguayan and Felix is a particular source of encouragement for Simeone, with the €128 million man finally the dynamo through which Atleti’s attacking play flows.
Luis Suarez was booked for trying to get a look at the VAR monitor
Image credit: Getty Images
The duo very nearly combined for the winner in Russia, with Felix beating his man all ends up before sending a wicked cross to the back post where Suarez could only head back across the goalline from a tight angle. There were also a couple other spurned chances as Lokomotiv Moscow held on for a draw.
This was a very Suarez performance, but not necessarily in a good way. Missed opportunities have become a characteristic of the 33-year-old’s game over the last two to three seasons and there were certainly a few of those in Russia. Nonetheless, Suarez looks every bit an Atletico Madrid player, right down to the dark arts and winding up of referees.