Match-winner Koke hails Atletico's defensive improvements after Vallecano victory

By Sports Desk March 19, 2022

Koke says Atletico Madrid's improved defensive showings are now being reflected by their results after the captain scored in a 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

After Atletico had managed just a single attempt on target despite bossing the first half, Koke bent a delicate strike into the bottom-right corner after a neat one-two with Joao Felix, handing Los Colchoneros a fifth consecutive win in LaLiga.

Koke's first strike of the campaign also saw him join a select group, becoming just the fifth man to score in each of the last 12 seasons in LaLiga, after Karim Benzema, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, and team-mate Antoine Griezmann.

The victory, which Atletico claimed despite Angel Correa's late red card, put last season's champions third in LaLiga, three points clear of Barcelona and five clear of Real Betis in the top-four race.

After downing Vallecano with his first goal since January 2021, Koke hailed the team's concentration levels and emphasised the importance of keeping a clean sheet.

"We have found the key," the 30-year-old told LaLiga TV. "We have all increased the intensity, the concentration. That is why we are in this dynamic. 

"We are playing very good games and that is reflected in the results. We have found the key both offensively and defensively. 

"We have conceded a lot of goals [prior to this run] and [now] we are managing to keep a clean sheet, which is important for us and has given us victories."

The shutout win saw Atletico boss Diego Simeone become just the fourth coach to oversee 200 clean sheets in LaLiga. After reaching that landmark in just 393 games, the Argentine has done so quicker than any of the previous three, namely Luis Aragones, Miguel Munoz, and Javier Irureta.

"Jan is always the best in the world," Koke added. "He proves it in every match. To score a goal [against Oblak], you have to score a great goal or get lucky. 

"For us it is good news that we did not concede a goal and Jan is very important."

Atletico have now conceded just twice in their last five league games, having shipped 10 goals in their previous five matches in LaLiga.

Simeone, meanwhile, highlighted the team's recent growth, and emphasised the contribution of Koke after his match-winning intervention. 

"The team has grown as a whole, and the individuals are having a very good level," Simeone said. "Lodi, Reinildo, Llorente, the return of Koke has given us a lot, De Paul 's [had] two very good games…

"The team is very strong when they work like this. It is repetitive to talk about Koke, they [the players] know what I think of him. He goes through bad times, but he accepts them. Some criticise him more than others, but he always gives us a lot."

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