Antoine Griezmann’s 61st minute goal divided Atletico and Malaga, with the Frenchman’s strike earning the hosts three points in the inauguration of their new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano.
Under Diego Simeone these type of triumphs have been an Atletico hallmark and just because they now play in a swanky, cutting-edge arena, they aren’t going to let go of what has nourished them during the last half decade.
The Metropolitano feels somewhere between Wembley, the Emirates and the Allianz Arena, but many modern stadia do. What differentiates Atletico is their fans, and the first loud chant half-an-hour before kick-off filled the stadium with rich, exciting waves. ‘Atleti,’ it goes. ‘Atleti’.
Atletico’s faithful have to come further now, with the club uprooted from its home of over 50 years on the banks of the Manzanares river, the Vicente Calderon, but come they will. Nearly 68,000 of them did on Saturday, give or take, with the first match at the stadium a sellout.
Parachutists descended though the roof of the stadium, the first carrying the match-ball, the second bearing an Atletico flag and the third a Spanish one.
But after the fanfare and celebrations tailed off, what was left was 90 minutes of football. Ninety minutes of Atletico vs Malaga. And merely moving to a stadium fit for champions will not make Atletico champions, nor will it make them play the way some would like them to.
Although they crushed Las Palmas 5-1 in between, Atletico’s draw on the opening weekend with minnows Girona and goalless tie at Valencia in week three showed the team is still easing its way into the new season.
Their 0-0 draw at Roma in the Champions League earlier in the week brought a better performance, but the same inaccuracy in front of goal which perhaps only Diego Costa can amend.
Angel Correa hammered a strike high over bar and then had fans out of their seats with a clever trick to leave Roberto Rosales eating dust, but his cross was wayward.
Griezmann was slipped in down the right but hammered his shot against the legs of Roberto Jimenez, with the linesman’s raised flag excusing him from guilt.
Former Atletico and Swansea striker Borja Baston could have spoiled the party but Jan Oblak denied him, the Slovenian goalkeeper reaffirming his credentials as one of the world’s finest.
In a week and a half it will be Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata trying to beat Oblak and the bouncing Atletico ultras behind the goal will make sure he knows where he is; the jeers the price he must pay for his Real Madrid past.
This scene befits a mammoth Champions League clash and Atletico will doubtless be able to handle it – they unerringly have, unless rivals Real are involved. It’s the smaller teams they need to become better at putting to the sword.
Diego Simeone introduced Yannick Carrasco for Thomas Partey at half-time and the Belgian immediately gave Atletico a more attacking dynamic, dancing into the area but firing wide.
Filipe Luis came close and Saul Niguez saw his long-ranger beaten over as Atletico started to dominate.
The goal came after an hour. It was Griezmann who scored it but Correa crafted it for him beautifully, playing the role of magician’s assistant.
Antoine Griezmann has been involved in 25 LaLiga goals since the start of last season; more than any other Atletico player.
8 🅰️ pic.twitter.com/tZLLloxlAD
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 17, 2017
Correa skinned his man on the flank and cut a vicious ball back into the area which the Frenchman side-footed home clinically for his 100th La Liga goal, and also his first, Atletico’s first, in their new home.
That was it, Atletico shut up shop and they did just what they do best. There will be times for more expansive, daring football, but this was about starting their new era with a win.