Valencia get better of Atlético again
League leaders Valencia took a massive step towards a potential shock title win with a hard fought 1-0 win against Atlético Madid in La Liga this weekend. It was the 5th time the two sides have met this season, with Valencia having the better of things previously with 2 wins and a draw, losing just once in the Copa Del Rey semi-final although they overturned the deficit in the second leg. Valencia were still without long term absentee Kevin Gameiro to face his former club, while skipper José Gayà also missed out after failing to recover from a twisted ankle. Atlético had Felipe missing but they were able to welcome back former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic after a calf injury.
Atlético, 4th in the league coming into the game, needed to be alert as early as the fourth minute as the hosts looked to sneak an early lead. A long build up involving Musah and Soler in the middle, Wass on the right and Thierry Correia on the left eventually saw the Portuguese full-back, in for the injured José Gayà, slip in Joshua Zirkzee. The striker took a touch, allowing Berat Djimsiti to make the tackle, and when the loose ball broke to Maxi Gómez, Stefan Savic had to react quickly to block his effort well before the ball was eventually cleared. The visitors then had a chance themselves 18 minutes in. A throw in down the left from Sime Vrsaljko found Saúl, who worked the ball between himself, Koke and Llorente in the middle before finding the run of Diego Costa. The experienced striker played a quick one-two with fellow front man Joao Félix before eventually dragging his effort wide of the upright, with Cillessen rushing out to close down the former Chelsea man.
Valencia broke the deadlock just before half-time, with all eyes on Atlético keeper Jan Oblak who could have perhaps done better to keep out the hosts. A goal kick from the Atlético shot stopper was won in the air by Musah, who used fellow midfielder Carlos Soler. A searching ball for Zirkzee was initially cleared, but Gabriel picked back up the ball, using Correia who opted to lay all the way back to Cillessen. The Valencia keeper played a short one to Diakhaby, who then played through Soler and Musah, the ball switched wide to Wass on the overlap down the right. The Danish international cut the ball back into midfield, with Musah and Soler again involved, the latter picking out Maxi Gómez in space left of the goal. The Uruguayan striker wound up and fired one in from an acute angle, and despite getting a hand to it, Oblak could only watch on as the ball hit the post and rolled into the empty net.
Taking a 1-0 advantage into the break was always going to favour Valencia, who have the joint best defensive record in the division, having conceded just 18 goals so far, and the uphill task for the visitors was made even worse when they were reduced to 10 men before the hour mark. Midfielder Saúl Ñíguez, just minutes after picking up a booking for a foul on winger Nicolás De La Cruz, inexplicably handled the ball when he went up for a challenge with Gabriel, giving referee Xavier Estrada Fernández no choice but to brandish a second yellow, the first he has shown this season.
Unsurprisingly the hosts, with the man advantage, dominated possession for the final 30 minutes, although they failed to create any more real chances of note, despite managing a total of 8 shots on target, while the visitors picked up a further 3 bookings as the game threatened to spill over, while also failing to register a single shot on target themselves as they slumped to their fourth defeat of the season, which sees them sit just 2 points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in the final champions league spot now, although they do have a game in hand at present, but could slip to 5th if Bilbao win tomorrow. Valencia, meanwhile, return to 7 points clear at the top with the fans finally starting to believe this could be their year.Share this: