Morata rescues lethargic Atletico against Bayer Leverkusen
Champions League Group D - Wanda Metropolitano - Atletico Madrid 1 (Morata 78') Bayer Leverkusen 0
Substitute Alvaro Morata rescued Atletico Madrid after a lethargic performance against Bayer Leverkusen at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Both sides had issues in attack coming into the game, and they were laid bare from the early minutes. Atletico, who were without record-signing Joao Felix due to injury, looked flat and struggled to find any intensity.
Atlético de Madrid- LeverkusenGetty Images
That allowed Leverkusen to take the initiative, and they were much more forceful in possession in the first half, with Nadiem Amiri and Karim Bellerabi particularly lively.
There was an early blow for the hosts as defender Jose Gimenez was forced off and replaced by Mario Hermoso, but he impressed in thwarting Leverkusen striker Kevin Volland twice before the break.
The second half didn’t start any better for Atleti, but they stepped it up after Thomas Lemar’s introduction just past the hour. Diego Costa had squandered a header from a brilliant Kieran Trippier cross beforehand, while Hector Herrera’s effort drew an excellent save from Lukas Hradecky.
Lemar was involved in the goal, too. He played an exquisite pass to Renan Lodi, who crossed for Morata to nod home. Victory for Atleti sees them set the pace for Juventus, while three defeats from three mean Leverkusen’s qualification dreams are all but over.
TALKING POINT – Subs change the game for abject Atleti
Atletico were poor, there is no getting away from it. Not only was Felix’s absence noticeable, but it seems clear the team haven’t recovered from Antoine Griezmann’s departure. Credit to Diego Simeone, though; the game was changed by his substitutes, with Morata netting his first Champions League goal since scoring against Atleti for Chelsea two years ago.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Mario Hermoso
Morata will grab the headlines, but Hermoso was colossal at the back. He was thrown in at the deep end after Gimenez’s injury but mopped everything up all night. For all their troubles going forward, Atleti haven’t lost their brilliant defensive organisation.
58’ - CHANCE! First sight of goal for Costa, almost an hour in, and he should do better. Connection on the header from Trippier's cross wasn't enough.
64’ - SAVE! Herrera's effort takes a deflection and is dipping under the bar but Hradecky is there with a brilliant stop.
78’ - GOAL! Morata nods home Lodi's excellent cross. Badly needed for the hosts. 1-0.
Atletico Madrid have remained unbeaten at home for two years in Europe, the last team to beat them were Chelsea.