“We are not simply here to play a supporting role,” stated Brendan Rodgers, but this time Celtic did not even fulfill that role. It is highly unlikely that they will remain in the European competition much longer, as they are currently at the bottom of Group E with only a single point after suffering a crushing 6-0 defeat against Atlético Madrid. This not only eliminates their chances of advancing in the Champions League, but also makes it improbable for them to drop down into the Europa League. It was not just the score line, but also the overall feeling of the match; with two goals each from Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata, and one from substitutes Samuel Lino and Saúl Ñíguez, along with a shot count of 27-1, it was evident that there was a significant gap between these two teams.
The Celtic coach could have argued that his team deserved more than just one point in their match in Madrid. They had shown moments of strength against Feyenoord, Atlético, and Lazio and had surprised their opponents with their high-quality and intense style of play. However, in their most recent game, they were unable to compete. The impressive Atlético team did not allow them any chances. It must also be noted that the team did not do themselves any favors. According to Rodgers, the use of VAR (video assistant referee) also worked against them, adding to their struggles.
Atlético had a winning streak of 15 games at this venue, making the task difficult from the start. However, with Daizen Maeda being sent off early and leaving them with 10 players for most of the match, it became impossible. Before the game, Rodgers had acknowledged the need for a positive outcome. But after the defeat, he shifted focus to surpassing last year’s points total rather than progressing in the tournament or qualifying for the Europa League. Unfortunately, any hopes of extending their European schedule were dashed as soon as the match began.
Rodgers believed that his team had a strong start, but playing football at this level is more challenging and less forgiving. When Callum McGregor’s header reached Griezmann at the edge of the field, he skillfully controlled the ball and sent a shot into the net with help from Cameron Carter-Vickers’ boot. According to the Celtic coach, this goal could have been prevented.
After just five minutes, Atlético had already scored a goal. Another five minutes passed and they had a chance to make it two, with a fantastic team effort moving them from one side of the field to the other. McGregor had to intervene to block Rodrigo Riquelme’s shot. Then, five minutes later, Atlético gained an advantage when the referee, Ivan Kruzliak, reviewed a challenge from Maeda on Mario Hermoso on the VAR screen. The initial yellow card was replaced with a red after the referee saw that Maeda’s studs were planted on Hermoso’s shin.
“That was a crucial moment,” Rodgers stated. “The initial image he was presented with was of the foot up, which does not accurately reflect the challenge. The VAR’s influence is evident: it almost feels like playing a video game, with decisions being made off the field in a separate room. The referee’s mind was swayed and he changed his decision. After that, they scored some incredible goals from all angles.”
Prior to this moment, Maeda was considered the player who posed the greatest threat to Atlético. He executed an impressive nutmeg that caught Griezmann off guard and forced him to react quickly. However, after that, no one else was able to challenge Atlético. They dominated the game and maintained their control until the end. Griezmann, in particular, played smoothly and effortlessly. He showcased his skills on all areas of the field. He and Riquelme worked together seamlessly and came close to scoring soon after. They continued to effortlessly maneuver past their opponents throughout the game.
There was a potential concern for Atlético that the game might feel too easy. However, there was a warning when Morata nearly scored an own goal, requiring a quick save from Jan Oblak. Griezmann stressed the importance of respecting opponents by competing rather than playing around, and the team demonstrated this mentality. Nahuel Molina missed a volley, Morata’s goal was disallowed for being offside, and Joe Hart saved a shot from Griezmann before they finally scored a second goal just before halftime. The goal was impressive, with Griezmann delivering an impressive 30-yard diagonal pass to José María Giménez, who then headed it to Morata for the goal.
Despite their determination, they continued to arrive. Hart made a save from Ángel Correa. Then Giménez struck the crossbar. Griezmann then turned and executed a beautiful volley for the third goal. He was substituted soon after to a round of applause, joined by Riquelme, their job here complete. However, the desire to score remained, providing more excitement for the home fans and more despair for the Celtic supporters. Griezmann had barely taken his seat when one of his teammates, Lino, scored an impressive fourth goal. And if that wasn’t enough, Morata’s shot for the fifth was even more impressive. Saúl then scored from close range, making it the sixth goal and highlighting the undeniable reality of the match.