Atletico's French connection sees off Roma; Simeone's side still have hope
MADRID -- Three thoughts on Atletico Madrid's 2-0 win over Roma in the UEFA Champions League
1. Atletico still fighting
Atletico Madrid remain in this season's Champions League -- just -- after Antoine Griezmann's acrobatic volley and Kevin Gameiro's late strike gave them victory over Roma at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The 2014 and 2016 finalists had to win to have any chance of escaping a disastrous group-stage exit, with hopes having become even slighter after Chelsea's 4-0 victory in Qarabag.
And the win seemed beyond Diego Simeone's tired-looking side for a long time, until Griezmann's acrobatic volley with 20 minutes remaining gave them hope. The French international then set up fellow countryman Gameiro to finally give fans at Atletico's new home something to cheer about.
On his first start since August, veteran striker Fernando Torres made some early noise with a turn and barrelling run from halfway, but it was Roma who had the better chances as Atletico's makeshift defence took time to settle.
Atletico needed to push to make something happen and Griezmann had two sighters that flew wide. It seemed something might be on when home midfielder Augusto Fernandez's 20-yarder deflected into the net just before half-time, but referee Bjorn Kuipers had spotted a handball in the build-up.
After the break Roma were mostly content to hold what they had but did strike a post when Radja Nainggolan caught Jan Oblak out of position. Rojiblanco coach Diego Simeone kept throwing on more forwards and the breakthrough came when substitute Angel Correa crossed from the left for Griezmann to provid an excellent finish.
After Roma right-back Bruno Peres was shown a straight red card, Griezmann turned provider late on with a ball behind the defence that Gameiro collected before rounding Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker and tucking home.
Simeone's side go to Chelsea on Dec. 5 needing to win, while hoping Qarabag can frustrate Roma, as they already have done twice to Atletico. It all looks unlikely, but at least they have pushed it all the way.
2. Griezmann's barren run is finally over
For over an hour it was another frustrating night for Griezmann, as his run without a club goal pushed past 750 minutes.
Deep into the second half, as Simeone threw on more centre-forwards, he was even seen helping clear the ball in his own penalty area, which seemed further evidence that the star striker was not being properly used by his club.
But Atletico's main man was in the right place at the right time when it mattered; Griezmann showed excellent technique and timing to leap and contort his body and perfectly meet Correa's chipped pull-back and give Alisson no chance from 12 yards.
The goal gave a huge lift to player, team and stadium and, especially after Gameiro's effort, there was some buzz around the place. It was also significant that Griezmann, whistled by his own fans just last weekend, had done something to start to mend a relationship strained by his regular flirting with other clubs.
Victory was also important for Atletico as a club, following disappointments in their new stadium against Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Griezmann gave the Wanda something to cheer, even if it is unlikely to matter too much in the end.
3. Roma lose but foundations in place
Eusebio Di Francesco represented the team he now manages in Italian capital derbies during the late 1990s against Simeone's Lazio and the two men spoke before this game of how they were similarly combative midfielders in their day.
On this evidence Di Francesco is a more cerebral coach, though; his side's passing, movement and positioning were all very impressive. The group situation meant Roma did not need to commit too many players forward and the Serie A side held their shape with the score 0-0.
Holding midfielder Maxime Gonalons, an astute signing by sporting director Monchi, was calm and intelligent at the team's centre, ex-Manchester City men Aleksander Kolarov and Edin Dzeko used their experience to good effect and winger Diego Perotti gave Atletico's stand-in right back Thomas Partey the runaround.
At 1-0 down Roma switched up and threatened an equaliser until Peres' late rush of blood to the head. The defeat should not matter too much, assuming they beat outsiders Qarabag at home in a fortnight's time, and they will be a tricky opponent for whoever they draw in the Round of 16.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan