Koke and Joao Felix are Atletico’s new pillars
Ever since Atletico Madrid’s old guard started to leave, new heroes were sought at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano. But it was never going to be easy to find players to replace Gabi, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran, Tiago and the rest. Now, with the passing of seasons and without being hyperbolic in comparisons, Diego Simeone and his current crop of players are getting close to the characteristics of that legendary Rojiblanco side.
Jose Gimenez has made a case for being an important player, but injuries have complicated his career and have seen him fall behind; Jan Oblak is insurance at the back but doesn’t get quite the praise he deserves; Saul Niguez plays a smaller part than was predicted of him; and Diego Costa still has doubts hanging over him. Koke, then, has been the best of all the apprentices. He was raised in the cradle of the club’s academy, became a player shaped by what Simeone needed of him and he has worn the captain’s armband since Godin set off for Serie A.
Without making too much noise or causing a fuss, he has stepped up into a more prominent role in the XI and was even been brought into the Spanish national team setup. He was once whistled by the home fans, but he’s now the best engine imaginable for this team. He’s a real player, he brings character and causes danger. Koke dealt with the salary reductions expertly and has acted as a link between the dressing room and board during a pandemic that has made everything more complicated than it once was.
A silent leader
With the spotlight firmly on Joao Felix, and for good reason, he has become a fundamental part of Simeone’s side. He has started every game this season except that at El Alcoraz, wherein he came on late in the game to significantly improve a poor Atleti. Thomas Partey left, Saul was injured, and so Joao’s partners in the middle have been constantly changing. But his recent performances have been as guaranteed as Oblak’s saves and Simeone’s intensity on the sidelines.
The Portuguese prodigy is responsible for making things happen in the final third. He has five goals in LaLiga Santander this season, he scored four goals in a week, he assists, dribbles and is a key factor to their early-season success in 2020/21. The youngster didn’t hide after a tough first season at the club. He has adapted, stepped up and is now one of the best players on the continent. His price tag was questioned just a few months go, but Joao Felix has answered those questions and is delivering the performances that Atleti signed him for.