Atletico Madrid winger Antoine Griezmann scored a hat-trick and propelled Diego Simeone’s side to a 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao during a volatile match at the new San Mames on Sunday.
Those who witnessed the La Liga contest will testify that it was one of the more compelling, hard-fought games of the early season.
Atletico defender Guilherme Siqueira needed to receive seven stitches by his left ear after his head was accidentally stepped on by Bilbao forward Aritz Aduriz. Teammate Jose Gimenez sustained a knock to his right leg after a heavy challenge from Iker Muniain – which arguably could have seen the Bilbao player shown a straight red.
The match saw twenty-six fouls overall (most of which were from strong challenges) and seven yellow cards.
In addition, Atletico Madrid centre-back Diego Godin suffered a broken nose after colliding with a teammate while attempting to head the ball away to safety.
The home side opened the scoring in the seventeenth minute when Mikel Rico headed Bilbao into the lead. ‘La Catedral’ went into hysterics and Athletic had the reigning La Liga champions on the ropes for the majority of the opening 45 minutes.
The noise inside the new San Mames didn’t let up until Antoine Griezmann stunned the 45,000-plus into silence 29 seconds after the start of the second half.
The former Real Sociedad winger headed home Juanfran’s cross to level the match and quiet his old rival’s stadium.
Tiago then won Los Rojiblancos a controversial penalty in the 53rd minute, which Raul Garcia converted to give Atletico a 2-1 lead.
Griezmann would then secure the victory in the 73rd minute with a superb finish. After controlling a cross-field pass from Gabi with the outside of his boot and seeing his opponent slip, the winger sprinted towards goal and lashed a perfect strike past Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz for the Atleti’s third goal.
The France international then completed his hat-trick from close range after attempting to set up Raul Garcia.
Griezmann had a clear chance to complete his hat-trick but selflessly decided to pass the ball to his teammate. But Garcia’s shot was blocked and ended up back at the feet of the younger winger. Griezmann was left with no other choice but to tap in Atletico’s fourth goal of the contest – his third of the match.
Griezmann’s performance came at an important time since Diego Simeone’s side were missing three of its most influential players – Koke, Mario Mandzukic and Miranda – due to suspension and injury.
The manager had been hoping for a better performance from his team after a disappointing effort last weekend at the Vicente Calderon to close out the 2014 home schedule.
The late 1-0 defeat to Villarreal dampened what was a celebratory week for the Spanish club after they had traveled to Turin and held Serie A champions Juventus to a nil-nil draw, which was good enough to earn Atletico a trip to the Champions League Round of 16 as group winners.
Prior to the match against Athletic Bilbao, Simeone had demanded a number of his players step up and contribute more consistent efforts for the team.
Griezmann has been one of the players who has seen his share of criticism and praise from Simeone since his £24 million switch from Real Sociedad this summer. But the 23-year-old winger came through for Los Colchoneros during an important moment, in a highly-pressurized ninety minutes at the new San Mames.
“As I always say, to come here is extraordinary,” Simeone said during his post-match press conference. “They [Bilbao] are supporters who always stick with their team. Congratulations to everyone who was on the pitch.”
“In the first half he [Griezmann] could not find a way to help out the team, but the second half was just the opposite. He was fabulous. He is a player we need, that we went looking for.”
“We are very happy for him, as we trust a lot in his characteristics and we need him.”
“This will be good for his confidence. It shows his work is paying off for him. He gives us something different. Hopefully it will stay that way.”
Atletico Madrid enter the Christmas break in third place in La Liga, they’re four points behind league leaders Real Madrid and three points behind second place Barcelona. The reigning champions of Spain don’t play again until they host Levante at the Vicente Calderon on January 3rd.
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