Marcos Llorente will never forget his trip to Anfield on March 11, 2020.
The Atletico Madrid midfielder came off the bench in the second leg of the club’s Champions League last-16 tie against Liverpool and had quite the impact – to say the least.
Llorente scored twice in extra-time to level the score at 2-2, before assisting Alvaro Morata’s 120th-minute strike that secured a famous victory for Diego Simeone’s men.
It was an individual display that absolutely no one saw coming.
Under the lights at Anfield, Simeone decided to remove the pragmatic shackles that had been placed upon the 26-year-old for the majority of his career and played him as a second striker.
It’s a move that will forever rank as one of the Argentine’s greatest in his illustrious managerial career, a stroke of pure genius.
Spanish football was sadly brought to a halt shortly after the Liverpool game due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but when it returned in June, Llorente was a different player and it was all thanks to the faith placed in him by the boss.
Playing as either a second striker, an attacking midfielder or a right midfielder, Llorente contributed to six more goals (2G, 4A) before the end of the 2019/20 campaign.
His transformation into a world-class offensive player has escalated at a rapid pace this season, to the point where Llorente is arguably La Liga’s finest forward-thinking midfielder.
The Spanish international has scored eight goals during his 22 league appearances, more than any other midfielder in the division.
He’s also assisted his teammates on seven occasions during that time and no player in La Liga, not even the creative genius that is Lionel Messi, has contributed more so far in 2020/21.
Llorente’s transformation, which has taken less than 12 months, is one of the most astonishing of the modern era.
The ultra-fit midfielder deserves the majority of the credit, but even the £45m-rated man himself recognises that his career would never have taken off in the manner it has had it not been for Simeone’s vision.
“If I didn’t meet Simeone there’s a good chance I’d still be playing as a pivot,” Llorente told Marca back in December.
“All credit for envisioning me in another position belongs to Cholo. There are coaches who see things and he is one of them.
“Sometimes [his ideas] come out well, other times bad. With me he was completely right. If it comes out wrong it can depend a bit on the player, but for me it very much suited me and I have the ability to perform in a very different position. The credit lies with him for seeing it.
“I will always be grateful to him for discovering me in that position. He’s a different coach, and I’m learning a lot with him. Every training session with Simeone is like a war, with brutal intensity. It’s something you take home every day. I’m sure I have a lot to learn from him.”
Luis Suarez and Joao Felix have been the headline-makers this season for Atletico, but the real MVP has been Llorente, an irreplaceable cog in Simeone’s well-oiled machine.
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