Atletico Madrid warmed up for Wednesday’s Champions League match at home to Astana with a convincing 2-0 La Liga success at Real Sociedad on Sunday and coach Diego Simeone was especially relieved to have Koke back in the side.
The influential Spain midfielder had not played since damaging a hamstring against Eibar last month and Atletico suffered without him, losing to Villarreal in La Liga and Benfica in Europe’s elite club competition.
The 23-year-old has been a key part of Atletico’s success in recent seasons and Simeone especially values him for the way he can turn a game with a moment of inspiration.
After he almost scored himself with a header, Koke sent a first-time pass into the path of Antoine Griezmann in the ninth minute at Sociedad’s Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian.
The France forward did the rest, surging between the centre backs and scoring past home goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli with a delightful chip.
Midfielder Yannick Carrasco scored in added time to make it 2-0 and Atletico stayed in touch with joint leaders Real Madrid, Celta Vigo and champions Barcelona on 16 points from eight matches, two behind the top three.
“Koke is very important for us because he can throw the opposition off balance in any situation in the centre of the field,” Simeone told a news conference.
The former Argentina captain was also delighted with the in-form Griezmann, who has hit four goals in La Liga this term as well as a double at Galatasaray in the Champions League.
Griezmann did not celebrate his goal against Sociedad, the club he joined as a teenager before moving to Atletico in 2014.
“I will never celebrate a goal against the club that gave me everything,” Griezmann told Spanish television.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” added the 24-year-old. “They are strong here at Anoeta and we had to make the most of the few scoring chances we had.”