Morata highlights importance of Atletico super-sub Griezmann

By Sports Desk September 12, 2022

Alvaro Morata hailed fellow Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann as being "fundamental" to the team's success ahead of their Champions League trip to Bayer Leverkusen.

Atleti made a strong start to their Champions League campaign against Porto last week, clinching a 2-1 victory in dramatic fashion courtesy of Griezmann's 101st-minute header.

That game was just the second in the competition's history to feature three goals after the 90th minute, while Griezmann's winner was the latest Champions League goal on record, scored after 100 minutes and 21 seconds (both stats excluding extra-time).

Griezmann's campaign has been overshadowed by suggestions Atleti are managing his minutes to avoid activating a purchase clause in the two-year loan deal they struck with Barcelona, but he has impressed when called upon.

Despite playing just 165 minutes in all competitions, Griezmann has scored three goals this season, a joint team-high alongside Morata.

Meanwhile, the 2018 World Cup winner has averaged a goal every 55 minutes in all competitions, by far the best ratio in Atleti's squad.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Morata showered his strike partner with praise, saying: "Antoine is a player who does not have to explain what he is. 

"He is fundamental for us not only when he is on the field, but also for the group. 

"He is always smiling, happy, he contributes many positive things to the group. He also transmits many positive things to us whether he plays or not. 

"He is one of the most important footballers we have. He brings us a lot of things and when he goes out on the field, he scores goals and does it well."

Having himself averaged a goal every 148 minutes, Morata has enjoyed something of a revival this campaign following an underwhelming two-year loan spell at Juventus.

The Spain international believes Diego Simeone's faith in him has been key to his good form, adding: "We have just started. I feel very good, I think I'm working well and so is the team. 

"I notice the confidence of the coach and I have always noticed it. I already told him one day that it was a pleasure to work with him, and here we are again with the same common goals. 

"I am so happy to be here. I'm only hopeful for the future and I'm going to work as hard as I can to have the greatest success."

Leverkusen represent a familiar opponent for Atletico – this will be the fourth different Champions League season in which the teams have met after doing so in the last 16 in 2014-15 and 2016-17, as well as in 2019-20's group stage.

But Simeone's men have only won one of their four away games against Leverkusen (D1 L2), and the Argentine is aware of the challenge at hand - despite the Germans' 1-0 defeat at Club Brugge last week.

"I have always had great respect for German teams, they have a strong head, they are tough, they don't go down until the end and they always compete well, as Leverkusen has done every time we played against them," Simeone said.

"I saw the last games, I liked the Brugge team. [Leverkusen] ended up losing a game where they surely deserved more than the result showed. 

"They are an organised team, which will leave the ball to us and will try to counter-attack with speed."

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