Antoine Griezmann has regained form for Atletico Madrid - Diego Simeone
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said he hopes Antoine Griezmann can continue his current form -- after the France international netted for a third consecutive game as his team were beaten 3-2 by Las Palmas on Tuesday evening but still progressed 4-3 on aggregate to the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.
Griezmann, 25, had an excellent 2016 overall, leading to regular transfer speculation of a big money move to the Premier League, but finished the calendar year without scoring in any of his last five games in all competitions.
The winter break seems to have helped revitalise the former Real Sociedad player -- who has now scored in three games on the bounce for the first time since last summer's European Championship finals. He looked lively for his 64 minutes on the pitch against Las Palmas, despite just 24 hours earlier having attended the FIFA Best awards in Zurich.
Simeone said it looked as if Griezmann was back to his usual self now, when speaking at a news conference at the Estadio Vicente Calderon after Atletico had survived a late scare to progress to the last eight.
"[Griezmann] is much better," the Colchoneros coach said. "It seems to [journalists] that he only plays well when he scores, but sometimes he doesn't score and plays better. We hope he keeps going like this, for us he is very important. He played a game as good as we are used to."
Simeone also said that squad players Nico Gaitan and Angel Correa, who scored a superb solo goal, had taken their opportunity to impress.
"They all played a complete game," he said. "Gaitan was good and Angel keeps improving, he was able to get his goal, which stands out. He always makes chances. It will be good for what is coming, there is a lot of competition for places, and we need them all."
Gaitan completed the 90 minutes for just the third time in any competition since his €25 million arrival from Benfica last summer, and admitted in the mixed zone afterwards that it had not been easy to settle at his new club.
"Coming to a new club is not easy," he admitted. "It was tough at the start at Benfica too. But I am here to play my part when called upon. This time I got the 90 minutes. Simeone asks the same from me as from all my teammates. But there is very big competition for places here, and it is a bit difficult for me."
The Argentina international put in a decent showing, and provided a clever assist for Griezmann's opening goal, but refused to say whether he was happy with his own performance.
"I don't know, that's not up to me to say," he said. "I make my own judgments, but I keep it to myself. I am happy to have qualified, for the team, and to have played the 90 minutes."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan