10th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
With Atletico Madrid's midfield lynchpin, Gabi, set to miss his side's next two matches against Granada in La Liga and then their Champions League encounter with Bayer Leverkusen, he certainly made his last game for a couple of weeks count against Valencia.
Diego Simeone's midfield warrior, who'll miss the Granada game courtesy of requiring surgery for two broken fingers, that allegedly occurred in a domestic incident, and the Leverkusen one through suspension, was unquestionably at his relentless best in Atleti's 3-0 mauling of the Bats.
From his customary central midfield station, the 33-year-old's energy, aggression and tenacity saw the club's captain set the tone beautifully for his teammates to follow. The sheer force, speed and physicality in which he executed his defensive work saw him emphatically impose himself on Valencia.
Los Che's talented midfielder, Daniel Parejo, was his direct opponent and bore the brunt of Gabi's ferocious presence. Parejo was rarely afforded a moment's peace, for Gabi was always in close proximity ready to press him or use his cover shadow to block passes from him into Valencia's attacking players. By managing to successfully limit the effect of Parejo's playmaking qualities from deep, Gabi's efforts here were vital in ensuring Valencia struggled greatly to get their passing game going.
In addition, the way Simeone's superbly well drilled outfit remained horizontally compact and kept their spacing tight when shifting laterally as a unit, plus layered their midfield on different heights to guarantee they were difficult to bypass, only parlayed to confound Voro's men's problems. Gabi was certainly key in this, constantly organising and keeping concentrated to make certain any gaping holes in their defensive structure weren't pressent.
The Mattress Makers' first goal served as a testament to Gabi's quality and intelligence on the defensive end. Here, upon recognising Parejo's shape to pass to Fabian Orellana, who'd taken up a position to Gabi's right, the Atleti destroyer sharply anticipated what would unfold. He then nipped in and duly intercepted Parejo's pass before it could reach its intended destination, winning back the ball in the process and then cleanly released it to instigate the move that led to Antoine Griezmann's opener. Although he didn't receive credit for this important action with a goal or an assist, his input here was equally, if not more, vital in setting up the goal.
While he's not widely associated with being a major weapon for Los Rojiblancos in their possession phases, it's certainly an aspect of his game that he still makes a notable impact. A concise, crisp ball player, the Spaniard once again demonstrated his distribution qualities to help construct his side's attacking passages. In addition, his supporting movements that ensured his teammates had options, and the way he counterpressed whenever Atletico lose possession further epitomised his value.
Indeed, this was another all action performance from Gabi that the Atletico Madrid fans have been accustomed to witnessing over the years. Despite him and his beloved Atleti not being at their best this term, they'll be hoping this latest triumph will spur them on to cement their Champions League qualification position for next season, and to do big things in the current edition of the competition.
Gabi's frustration at some results this campaign has seen him hit the headlines for his outspoken comments on the team being more fragile defensively when Koke plays in central midfield, which Simeone was forced to have stern words to him about. A man who so demonstratively embodies his manager's philosophy, Gabi just wants his team to stick to playing to their strengths, which he believes have been veered away from slightly. "Keeping clean sheets used to be our strength. We have to work together more than ever to defend better and take our chances in attack," he insisted.
"Mentally we have to clear our heads, to return to being this ambitious team which is motivated to win, as soon as possible. The only way out of difficult situations is to work hard and be together."
With their fearless leader set to miss the next two fixtures, it'll be interesting to see how Atletico fare without their battle hardened veteran. He might not be their most technically gifted footballer, but in terms of structure, attitude, work rate and leadership, he's without doubt one of their most important.
Atletico Madrid's midfield lynchpin, Gabi
10th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.