Llorente the driving force as Atletico create breathing space in La Liga

MADRID (AFP) – A year since Marcos Llorente launched his career at Anfield, he might be launching Atletico Madrid towards the title.

Two goals against Liverpool in the Champions League was as many as Llorente had managed in the previous four seasons of his career, with an assist for Alvaro Morata confirming Atletico Madrid’s pulsating 3-2 win at Anfield last year.

Twelve months on, Llorente has nine goals and eight assists in La Liga, a total of 17 contributions only bettered by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema.

His latest goal was an equaliser against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, a late run into the box and header into the corner, and really he assisted the winner too, a through-ball giving Suarez the chance to earn a penalty.

Llorente knew his match-winning performance against Liverpool could be a turning-point – he even named his dog ‘Anfield’ to celebrate – but he might not have predicted such a dramatic transformation afterwards.

File photo shows Atletico Madrid’s Marcos Llorente vying for the ball with Athletic Bilbao’s Dani Garcia. PHOTO: AP

If La Liga ended tomorrow, he would be a contender for player of the year, arguably even ahead of Suarez, whose 18 goals since swapping Barcelona for Madrid have been pivotal in Atletico opening up a six-point lead at the top of the table.

But if Suarez has provided the finishing touch, Llorente has been Atleti’s driving force, his running, energy, selflessness, versatility and precision symptomatic of an Atletico side that has been a testament to the collective.

“For a year now Marcos has been the epitome of effort,” said Diego Simeone this week. “He arrived at the club, he wasn’t in the team, not even on the bench, but he kept training and making the effort to get to where he wanted to get to and he’s managed it.”