Atletico Madrid crushed Sevilla 6-1 on Saturday to move third in La Liga as Diego Simeone celebrated setting a new milestone as coach.
Memphis Depay struck twice for the hosts, with Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco adding to the lead, and Alvaro Morata adding a brace in a rout which affirmed Atletico’s vast improvement in 2023.
Argentine coach Simeone overtook the late Luis Aragones as the coach in charge of Atletico for the most games, with this his 613rd at the helm of the Rojiblancos after taking charge in 2011.
Simeone has helped Atletico win La Liga twice and the Copa del Rey once, establishing them as a team capable of battling with giants Real Madrid and Barcelona for domestic honours, as well as two Europa Leagues.
His team have misfired this season, suffering a group stage exit in Europe and not joining the title race, but after the World Cup they have found their groove.
Having trailed Real Sociedad since November, they capitalised on the Basque side’s draw on Friday against Cadiz to go a point above them and claim third place.
“I asked two things from them, to play with passion and with heart, they have the talent (already),” Simeone told reporters.
“I am calm, I am in the place I love, I like seeing this team lift itself up in the difficult moments.”
Griezmann sprinted over to celebrate his goal with Simeone on the touchline and said he had hoped for a performance of this calibre.
“What is an important day for him, is an important day for me,” Griezmann told Movistar.
“I really wanted this game to be magical for him and the fans, because we deserve it.
“Since the World Cup we’ve been in an incredible dynamic, (and may it) continue like this.”
The thrashing left Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla 16th, a point above the relegation zone, and they could be sucked into it on Sunday.
“We played very badly,” Sevilla defender Marcos Acuna told Movistar.
“It goes beyond all limits. We played very badly and that’s why we’ve been beaten.”
Simeone handed Depay his first start since his January switch from Barcelona, and the Dutchman took full advantage.
Griezmann threaded a pass through for the forward, who slotted between Yassine Bounou’s legs to open the scoring after 23 minutes.
Depay hit his second three minutes later, driving a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box to double Atletico’s lead.
Sevilla pulled one back before half-time out of the blue through Youssef En-Nesyri from close range.
Griezmann restored Atletico’s cushion early in the second half with a spectacular long-range strike, his 150th goal for the club, with Carrasco soon adding another.
Ivan Rakitic hit the post with a penalty after Pape Gueye was fouled and Atletico made him pay by quickly finding the fifth, with Morata netting at the second attempt after a fine move with Griezmann heavily involved again.
Gueye was harshly sent off for a second yellow card to make Sevilla’s evening even worse, before Morata netted in stoppage time.
There are mounting rumours this may prove to be Simeone’s last season at Atletico, but if it is, the coach is determined to go out on a high, at least in terms of performances if not silverware.
Simeone’s contract expires in June 2024 and with the team improving again, he may also decide to see it out.
“Obviously you can’t imagine an Atletico Madrid without ‘Cholo’. If I’m not wrong he’s been at the club for 11 years,” said Atletico midfielder Koke.
“When he came, he brought a clear idea and change of mentality, he united everyone and he gave the club the stability it needed.”
Earlier Saturday Villarreal climbed to sixth with a 2-0 victory at Almeria thanks to goals from Gerard Moreno and Jose Luis Morales, both set up by the electric Samu Chukwueze.
Bottom of the table Elche picked up only their second win of the season as they beat Mallorca 1-0, but remain 12 points from safety.
Getafe earned an entertaining 3-2 triumph over Girona to provisionally rise to 15th, with Turkish striker Enes Unal netting a brace