Atletico Madrid welcomed Valencia to the Wanda Metropolitano stadium on Wednesday evening in the 34th round of the 2018/19 La Liga season.
It was the visitors whose need for points was in theory bigger ahead of the clash as they battle for a finish to the campaign that would lead them into the Champions League next season, but Atletico aren’t the kind of team that would allow anyone an easy game in their home. Further more, the bragging rights in the Spanish capital are still at stake with Real Madrid looming close behind.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone will be without the suspended striker Diego Costa. Defenders Lucas Hernandez and Jose Maria Gimenez missed out through injury.
Jan Oblak was in goal. Stefan Savić and Diego Godin were the last defensive shield infront of the goalkeeper, with Filipe Luis on their left and Juanfran on their right. Rodri and Saul Niguez held the middle of the park, while Koke and Thomas Lemar covered the wide positions. Antoine Griezmann was joined by Alvaro Morata upfront.
Marcelino in the away dugout was without midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and winger Denis Cheryshev who were injured, while striker Rodrigo Moreno was suspended following the two yellow cards he was shown at the weekend against Real Betis.
Neto stood between the posts. Mouctar Diakhaby and Ezequiel Garay were flanked by Daniel Wass and Jose Luis Gaya at the back. Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo acted as the central midfield pair, with Carlos Soler and Goncalo Guedes on either side. Santi Mina and Kevin Gameiro led the attacks.
The First Half
As could have been expected, Griezmann played slightly deeper than Morata, acting more like an attacking midfielder that an outright forward as Atletico took control of the match early on. He kept finding spaces between the lines and combining nicely with any teammate in close proximity on either side. After only three minutes he drifted to the right and received the ball off Juanfran, before involving Koke whose shot went high over the bar, despite several Atletico players arriving to the scene to capitalize on a cross that never came.
Valencia had proper trouble in getting across the halfway line due to the relentless pressure the home side were putting them under, and Atletico tried a few times down the left through Lemar before another attack in the eighth minute down the winger switch sides with a lovely diagonal for Juanfran who delivered a perfect cross to the far post. Morata was alert.
Valencia looked to respond straight away and went forward in numbers, but it almost cost them after only three minutes as Morata helped Griezmann burst into a counterattack. Griezmann then employed Morata on the edge of the box but Morata’s shot from there was too tame to trouble Neto.
Oblak, on the other hand, almost gave the visitors an equalizer soon after with a misplaced pass that found its way to Guedes, but the winger’s subsequent shot went off target.
At this point, Marcelino’s men composed themselves and took possession for a while. They carried the battlefront into Atletico’s half and patiently tried to weave their web, but they were up against one of the best organized defences in Europe and it showed. Atletico absorbed the pressure without any panic and gradually pushed the visitors back again.
In the 20th minute, Neto failed to keep hold of a long-range effort from Luis and Morata reacted well again and put the ball in the net, but the flag was raised for offside. Valencia players started exhibiting frustration at being unable to sway the balance of the game towards Oblak’s goal and Soler soon picked up a yellow card for bringing Luis down from behind.
Atletico did their best keep that frustration up. Whenever Valenica looked to bring the ball down and organize a move forward, the home team players snapped at their heels and ankles to cause a break in play.
However, the visitors cut through Atletico like butter in the 35th minute with a great team move which didn’t bear fruit at first, but they soon hit again and this time Mina tricked Godin nicely inside the box and drew Savić off Gameiro, before handing the ball to his unmarked teammate at seven or eight yards. Gameiro made no mistake.
The level scoreline was much more realistic at this point of the game as the visitors completely grew into the contest. Parejo and Soler displayed great skill on the ball a few times, and Mina was giving the Atletico defence some serious work to do.
On the other hand, Saul and Lemar were very active on the ball too, and Griezmann’s movements caused quite a few worries among the Valencia players, but a few hopeful attempts from range was all that the rest of the opening 45 minutes produced.
The Second Half
Just four minutes into the second period, a great cross by Lemar from the left was met in the air by Griezmann who beat Gaya to it and regained the lead for Atletico.
From that point on, Simeone’s team went back to their tried tactics of rough play to thwart the intricacies of the visitors and generally slow the play down. Such an approach led to Luis picking up a deserved booking in the 57th minute.
Two minutes later, Marcelino brought on a fresh pair of legs in the form of Ruben Sobrino instead of the tired-looking Guedes.
His team immediately created a huge chance as the broke down the right flank and eventually Soler blasted on target from close range, but Oblak justified his reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers with a great save.
In the 63rd minute, Simeone made his first change by introducing Angel Correa instead of Luis. It seemed like a very attacking move from the Argentinian coach, and sure enough, Atletico quickly pushed the visitors back made their intention to kill the game off very clear.
The change in the positions the home team players were occupying was an interesting one. Koke moved from practically playing as a right winger to the left-back role Luis had left vacant, and Correa now moved to the right attacking flank.
Morata soon had a couple of chances but he was first caught offside, and then he committed a foul upfront.
But Valencia weren’t giving up. They increased the intensity in their game and pushed forward, but that also meant Ateltico now had more space to hit quickly back. On one such occasion, Sobrino was forced to earn a yellow card by taking out Griezmann.
With just over 15 minutes to go, Saul seemed to have blocked a close range shot from Gameiro with his arm and referee Hernandez Hernandez looked for VAR assistance before making a decision. He then pointed to the spot and booked Saul.
Parejo stepped up and buried the ball into the back of the net.
Atletico went forward and came very close to re-establishing their lead again as Juanfran produced another fantastic cross, but Griezmann’s header missed the far post by an inch or two.
Atletico pushed hard now. They were pressing high and attacking in numbers, and the visitors had a very hard time to keep the ball in their possession for longer than a few seconds, and soon it paid off. Thomas Partey, who had replaced Lemar a bit earlier, did well to keep the ball in midfield and hand it to Correa just outside the box. Correa took a step forward and bent his shot beautifully past Neto.
It was now Valencia’s turn to push forward, but they gave Atletico another chance from a counterattack as Morata burst forward less then 10 minutes from time, escaped down the left and found Griezmann in the air again, but Griezmann headed off target again.
It was Morata’s last contribution of the game as he made way for Sanitago Arias.
As the last minutes of the game slowly unfolded, fatigue became notable in both sets of players and that suited Atletico just fine.
A great contest, a spectacular 90+ minutes of intensive football, in which Valencia perhaps didn’t deserve to lose, but Atletico did deserve to win. The desire from the visitors that helped them to come from behind and draw level twice was impressive, very befitting of their need for points, but in the end, the home side had just a tad more in their locker.
The result means that Barcelona’s celebration of another La Liga title will have to wait at least for the next round as Atletico still have a mathematical chance of catching them, and Simeone will certainly be happy for his team to have put three more points between them and Real.
On the other hand, Valencia will have to look elsewhere for the points they need in their effort to secure Champions League football for next season, but given the performance they put in at the Wanda Metropolitano, they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in UEFA’s elite club competition.
ATLETICO MADRID: Oblak 8, Godin 8, Savić 6, Luis 7 (63′ Correa 8), Juanfran 7.5, Rodri 7, Saul 7, Koke 7, Lemar 7.5 (70′ Thomas 7), Griezmann 8.5, Morata 7.5 (84′ Arias N/A).
VALENCIA: Neto 6.5, Diakhaby 6.5, Garay 7.5, Gaya 7, Wass 7, Parejo 8, Coquelin 7.5, Guedes 7 (59′ Sobrino 7), Soler 7.5, Mina 8, Gameiro 7.5.
GOALS: Morata 9′, Gameiro 36′, Griezmann 49′, Parejo (P) 77′, Correa 81′
YELLOW CARDS: Soler 22′, Morata 47′, Luis 56′, Sobrino 73′, Saul 76′, Diakhaby 90′.
REFEREE: Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez.
DATE & VENUE: April 24, 2019, Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid.
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