Marcos Llorente couldn’t have moved to Atlético Madrid at a worse time.

When Atlético were moving away from the hard-nosed soccer that defined an era, Llorente came as a throwback to this style. Where Gabi once prowled, Thomas Partey now sat and looked forward. Where Tiago once diligently patrolled, Saúl now steamed ahead. Where Llorente might once have relied on weekly, he was moving into a situation where his chances would be scarce.

That changed in Liverpool, in the next leg of Atlético’s Champions League last 16 matches once the summer recruit scored twice to kill the tie. They’re to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the only competition that continues to evade Diego Simeone and have the opportunity to”regress” back to the group people dread.

In Anfield, before the coronavirus took soccer away from us, Llorente’s heroics were a metaphor for Simeone’s message — the everyman who becomes the protagonist. Hard work, patience, and diligence are rewarded at the end of the game. The unlikely lad wins it for the unlikely lads.

It takes a certain sort of self-belief to create it as a professional footballer. Success on top presumes undying confidence. Llorente was sidelined by Zinedine Zidane in his final year as a Real Madrid player. When he was finally told he wasn’t needed any longer in the Santiago Bernabéu, he had been sold to Atlético as a further slap to the face. Florentino Pérez refused to sell James Rodríguez into Madrid’s cross-town competitions for fear of strengthening an immediate competitor, the implicit message being that they were not worried about that happening with Llorente’s transfer.

Until the Liverpool second leg, Llorente was on the field for 924 minutes this year. He played 64 at the tie at Anfield and has been the key to Atlético’s most important victory in years.

Llorente isn’t a striker. Regardless of his two goals and help, he will not play at the place he took up throughout that game when soccer returns to our screens. It is going to likely be a long time until we see him score another goal and possibly forever before we see him score another one as significant.

This isn’t an effort to convince you that Simeone pulled off a masterstroke by playing the defensive midfielder as an ad-hoc attacker. Amidst the whoops and war cries at Anfield, there was a deeper message to be discovered. Llorente’s performance underlined the significance of having players that, although not excellent, are ready to do whatever it takes to win for Simeone. With victory comes complacency, and Atlético players have never been immune to that. They dropped some of whatever it was that made them so great for so long. They had forgotten how to win ugly.

Llorente was and is the remedy. See, Atlético’s problem hasn’t been defending. It has always been when they have been asked to do more than simply defend. And in a league which became increasingly aware of just how great there were, teams sat and stalemates gathered. Simeone had no response.

In the Champions League, however they do not have that problem. Any team they’re likely to confront in the last eight, from Barcelona to Manchester City, will attack them. And Atlético can win these matches when they’re pushed back on top of these.

Another dilemma Atlético have had to contend with lately is accidents. Since the games go byplayers fall at Atlético. It’s only a simple fact of life like Simeone’s hoarse voice in post-game press conferences, or his immaculate black suit on the sideline. Players have a tendency to drop at a much greater speed than their opponents, too. Once the present coronavirus epidemic moves — which it will — and we get Champions League football back, the players’ bodies will be treated if not strengthened by the rest.

Marcelo Bielsa considers that you don’t switch to Plan B but only resolve to improve in Plan A. Diego Simeone is the same as it matters. He hasn’t changed that much because his Rojiblancos side swooped into a league title and place Europe on notice with exhaustively exact defensive screens and frustratingly basic game-plans.

Atlético have four matches now for to another Champions League final. Four finals, as they say in Spain, that will take them to a literal closing.

Marcos Llorente’s role as the hero at Anfield was a harbinger of things to come. The Atlético we’ve come to understand in LaLiga, limping to draws against Leganés and Espanyol, still exists. However, they won’t appear again in Europe.

It is time now for the older school Atlético to come back. With the return of this band of brothers will come the return of this never-say-die attitude. Atlético are healthy, with one contest to concentrate on and Simeone’s message baked in their synapses. While it wouldn’t be smart to forget completely about the unsuccessful, uncreative and tired Atlético we’ve seen this year in LaLiga, their alter-ego could just be favourites to win the Champions League.