Thomas Lemar struck in the 99th minute to complete a dramatic late comeback as Atletico Madrid edged past Espanyol 2-1 at RCDE Stadium on Antoine Griezmann’s second debut for the club.
Espanyol had failed to score in their opening three games since returning to the top flight – and a joint-LaLiga record eight matches stretching back into their last campaign at this level – but they took the lead through Raul de Tomas’ 40th-minute header.
That was a deserved opener for the hosts in a half they dominated and Diego Simeone responded by making a triple substitution at half-time and changing system.
Simeone’s alternations ultimately paid off in an incredible conclusion to Sunday’s contest as Lemar – one of those brought on – found a winner deep into added time after Yannick Carrasco had got the champions back on level terms 20 minutes earlier.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) September 12, 2021
Jan Oblak produced a fine save inside the opening four minutes to deny Adrian Embarba, who was able to get a shot away after the Atletico goalkeeper and Stefan Savic failed to clear the ball.
Espanyol then had a De Tomas shot blocked on the line by Felipe, though the offside flag would have denied the striker anyway, before Embarba’s vicious drive from range was expertly tipped over by Oblak.
But Vicente Moreno’s side’s long wait for a top-flight goal ended from the subsequent corner as Embarba’s delivery was glanced in by Real Madrid youth product De Tomas at the near post for what looked for a while like being the winning goal.
Simeone brought on Geoffrey Kondogbia, Renan Lodi and Lemar at the interval and the latter thought he had equalised seven minutes later when converting Marcos Llorente’s cross, but it was ruled out for an offside infringement against Luis Suarez.
Joao Felix was next to be introduced from the bench as Simeone made full use of his squad depth and the visitors’ quality did eventually shine through.
Carrasco slotted past Diego Lopez to get Atleti back on level terms with 11 minutes left after showing great control in the box and the wing-back then picked out Lemar for the last-gasp winner, Lopez failing to keep it out despite getting a hand to the ball.
What does it mean? Atletico find a way
Atletico were made to work hard for a victory that moves them back above Athletic Bilbao at the top of LaLiga ahead of the games involving Real Madrid and Valencia later on Sunday.
Simeone’s men tend to struggle when they travel to Espanyol, though, with this their first win in four away league matches against the Barcelona-based side.
This is the second game running Atleti have been bailed out late on following a comical own goal in their 2-2 draw with Villarreal a fortnight ago, the type of fighting spirit that saw Los Rojiblancos come out on top in LaLiga last term.
Bringing in Griezmann from Barcelona on deadline day will undoubtedly strengthen Simeone’s attack – while at the same time weakening title rivals Barcelona’s – but this was a second debut to forget in Atleti colours for the Frenchman.
He managed just two shots, neither of which were on target, and had only four touches in the Espanyol box before being replaced just before the hour. The forward was by no means Atleti’s worst performer, though, as his game-high three chances created attests.
Carrasco inspires Atleti comeback
For all the talk of how Simeone is going to get the most out of Griezmann, Suarez and Joao Felix, it was left to one of his old guard to bail out his side.
The Belgium international’s equaliser was impressive, coming from one of his team-high four shots. That was Atleti’s 300th goal against Espanyol in LaLiga and the one that followed may well be the most dramatic of all, Carrasco back-heeling the ball to Lemar to complete the turnaround.
Atletico host Porto in their opening Champions League group game on Wednesday before facing Athletic Bilbao on their return to LaLiga action next weekend. Espanyol have a full week to pick themselves up before their trip to Real Betis.
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