Madrid Derby: Joao Felix, Diego Costa yet to fire for Atletico

After spending a club-record fee to buy Benfica's Joao Felix as Antoine Griezmann's successor, is Atletico Madrid seeing a return?

Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix.   -  Getty Images

Atletico Madrid hosts La Liga leader and city rival Real Madrid this weekend with Joao Felix still feeling his way in to life as its club-record signing.

Brought in as a direct replacement for Antoine Griezmann following the France forward's controversial switch to Barcelona, Joao Felix has shown flashes of the brilliance that persuaded Atleti to pay his €126million release clause to buy him from Benfica.

The teenager exploded onto the scene with 15 Primeira Liga goals last season, while he hit a superb hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals.

The expectations on his shoulders at Atletico are a different story, however, with Joao Felix having two goals and an assist to show for his six La Liga appearances at his new club.

With Zinedine Zidane's unpredictable Madrid visiting the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday and Atleti having not won a home La Liga derby since 2015, Joao Felix will face the biggest test of his club career to date.


PARTNERSHIP WITH COSTA NEEDS WORK

On paper, Diego Costa looks like an ideal partner for Joao Felix, with his street smarts and aggressive nature aspects the teenager is undoubtedly lacking.

Costa's experience should be invaluable too, with the Brazil-born Spain international having fired Atletico to its most recent title in 2013-14 when he scored a career-best 27 league goals.

But the 30-year-old's form has been a concern for some time, dating back to his return from Premier League side Chelsea, and his opener in Tuesday's 2-0 victory at Real Mallorca was only the second competitive goal he has managed in 2019.

Data from Opta shows Joao Felix has only passed to Costa seven times during their 279 minutes on the pitch together in La Liga this season, with the ball going in the other direction on just six occasions. Linking up effectively has been a challenge with Joao Felix typically drifting out to the right, where he combines with Koke.

Although Joao Felix also netted in the Mallorca win to send Atleti into the derby on a high note after it drew a blank in back-to-back league games, this must be an area of concern for Diego Simeone, who is without Alvaro Morata through suspension this weekend.

Costa and Joao Felix will surely develop their understanding in time and the duo was extremely effective when Atletico destroyed Madrid 7-3 during the International Champions Cup in pre-season, a game in which Costa scored four goals and was twice assisted by the Portuguese.

Only once have they combined for a goal in La Liga this term, Costa setting up Joao Felix to spark Atleti's 3-2 comeback win at home to Eibar on September 1, and this needs to improve.


FITNESS ANOTHER POTENTIAL ISSUE

Adapting to a new league physically, as well as making the step up in class, was always going to be a challenge for Joao Felix.

His slight figure is in sharp contrast to the imposingly barrel-chested strike partner Costa, who can bounce defenders out of his way.

Although he produced a brilliant solo run from inside his own half to win a penalty against Getafe on his LaLiga debut, occasionally Joao Felix has been pushed off the ball too easily.

Perhaps this has led to frustrations for the teenager as he has committed seven fouls in his six La Liga appearances to date, while he has been brought down on eight occasions.

The rough and tumble nature of some matches has also posed a problem. Joao Felix was taken off in the first half of a friendly against Numancia after taking a bang to his hip and some opposition players have seemingly targeted him.

Although Simeone has selected the Portugal international in all six of his La Liga line-ups this term, while he also started against Juventus in the Champions League, he has been substituted five times.

Confidence is not an issue for Joao Felix, but he has fired more shots off target (six) than on target (five) in the top flight for Atleti, while he has lost possession at an average of 9.83 times per match. Indeed, he has completed 84 passes and 25 have gone astray, a far from impressive ratio, with just two chances created.

Time is on Joao Felix's side, however. At the same stage of the 2018-19 season, Griezmann's last for the Rojiblancos after winning the World Cup with France, he had only scored twice in La Liga. Joao Felix has matched that tally already.

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