Prior to their Champions League trip to Bayer Leverkusen, Alvaro Morata praised fellow Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann as “fundamental” to the team’s success.
In their opening Champions League match against Porto last week, Atleti triumphed 2-1 in thrilling fashion thanks to Griezmann’s header in the 101st minute.
Three goals were scored after the 90th minute in only two games in competition history.
At the same time, Griezmann’s game-winning goal, which was scored after 100 minutes and 21 seconds, was the most recent Champions League goal ever (both stats excluding extra-time).
Suggestions cast a shadow over Griezmann’s campaign. In the two-year loan agreement they made with Barcelona, Atleti is controlling his playing time to prevent them from exercising a purchase clause, but he has shown promise when called upon.
Griezmann and Morata have each scored three goals this season despite playing just 165 total minutes across all competitions.
The World Cup champion of 2018 has, however, had the best goal-per-minute ratio in the Atleti team, scoring once every 55 minutes across all competitions.
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 averaged a goal every 148 minutes, Morata has enjoyed 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 coach’s confidence, and I have always seen 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 is a familiar foe for Atletico; the teams have previously faced each other in the last 16 of the 2014–15 and 2016–17 Champions Leagues as well as the group stage of the 2019–20 season.
However, Simeone’s team has only triumphed once in four away matches against Leverkusen (D1 L2).
Despite the Germans’ 1-0 loss last week at Club Brugge, the Argentine is aware of the challenge ahead.
“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.
“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 that will leave the ball to us and try to counter-attack with speed.”
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