La Liga contributor, Jen Evelyn gives her take on Koke and how the young Spanish international is the cog in the engine that is Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
When Atlético moved to the top of the league table with a win over Malaga on Saturday evening, the hero of the day couldn’t have been any more convenient. Diego Costa’s goal-scoring form has seen him occupy the headlines, but on Saturday, it was the young midfielder Koke who struck the winner, and throughout the season, has caught the eye of not only football experts but various big clubs all over Europe as well.
Koke is the purest Atléti product you’ll find. Having joined the club’s youth ranks at the age of 8, the midfielder has spent his entire career in the Rojiblancos. His first team debut came in 2009 against Barcelona – one of the sides currently tipped to fight for his signature – and it was in 2012 when the youngster really popped up on the big stage with 48 appearances for Atlético. The same has continued this season, as the midfielder has played in all of his side’s league fixtures and scored four goals in the process. What’s more, Koke has 8 assists to his name, a number only topped by Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas who has 9.
Koke’s statistics are nothing short of immense, even more so when the midfielder has played in all kinds of positions throughout the season. Diego Simeone has preferred him on the left side of the midfield, where he has made 10 appearances in all competitions, but the versatile 21-year-old has also been seen as a right midfielder, a central midfielder, in both attacking and more conservative roles, and has also played as a defensive midfielder on one occasion.
It is said every now and then that versatility is a sign of a player’s intelligence, and it’s a rather safe bet to say that that is the very case with Koke, who has shown week after week his positional awareness and ability to fluidly exchange positions with his teammates from time to time. Certainly, such versatility will serve Koke well in the future as well, especially when it comes to making an impact in the Spanish national team whose midfield is probably more packed than any other country’s in the world.
On top of his positional awareness, Koke’s strengths – perhaps the greatest ones of them all – are in his passing game. He is certainly not the first and will not be the last to be compared to the Barcelona legend Xavi at this department, but might well be one of the few to live up to that title. The Atléti jewel averages an impressive 2.3 key passes per game and has a pass success rate of 82.6 percent, which is impressive for someone who likes to search for the occasional through ball and spends a relatively large amount of time in the final third, and especially for someone whose average passing length is up to 17 meters.
And Koke’s traits don’t end there. Often playing in the heart of the field, it’s crucial for someone like Koke to be able to hold on to the ball and also show a physical side to his game when it’s needed. That certainly isn’t a problem for Koke, who averages 2.4 tackles per game and possesses an ability to keep hold of the ball under pressure and eventually, after drawing a number of opponents to him, to find a pass.
In the latest fixture against Malaga, Koke’s involvement was yet again striking, as the midfielder had more touches to the ball than anyone else on the field, eighty-nine in total, had two shots on target and made two key passes. A late winner to put Atlético on top of the table was in the end just the sweet icing on the cake, but like the goal – a run from the midfield to the edge of the box that ended in a cool finish – showed, Koke is a midfielder capable of making a real impact.
If the current Atlético Madrid is very much a picture of its coach Diego Simeone: neatly organized like Simeone’s neatly combed back hair, elegant like his all-black suit on the sideline, and passionate like the Argentine coach giving his team instructions; Koke is the very embodiment of the spirit that has lead Atlético to where they are now: passionate, tireless and hungry. Those traits added to the midfielder’s skill have made him one of the most interesting prospects in the entire Europe.
The impressive performances have caught the eye of both of the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, and out in the Atlantic, it’s Manchester United who seem especially keen on the young midfield maestro who Atlético have no intention of letting go of. And if the midfielder stays healthy until the spring, he could well be instrumental in the making of what has the potential to be a very special season for Atlético.