Atlético Madrid’s friendly at King Abdullah Sports City/gratuitous cash-grab in Saudi Arabia resulted in a come-from-behind win for the team, as some Diego Simeone experimentation helped Atlético to a 3-2 win over Al-Ittihad.
More than 60,000 spectators were on hand for this historic friendly celebrating Al-Ittihad’s 90th anniversary. The oldest club in Saudi Arabia got off to a good start, nearly forcing Miguel Ángel Moyà into an athletic save in the early moments. Atlético would soon ease into the match, though, and new right midfielder Juanfran scored a great improvised finish to hand los colchoneros a 1-0 lead.
It seemed to be smooth sailing from there, but Al-Ittihad had other ideas. Two late goals - one from Mahmoud Kahraba and Ahmed Akaïchi, both at the expense of Stefan Savic - put Simeone’s men behind at the break.
Then Cholo went to work. The Argentine made six changes at halftime, taking off goalscorer Juanfran, Gabi, Saúl Ñíguez, Koke, Antoine Griezmann and Kévin Gameiro and replacing them with Lucas Hernández, Nico Gaitá, Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Partey, Ángel Correa and Fernando Torres. To accommodate Lucas’ entry, José Giménez moved into a defensive midfield role.
These changes paid off handsomely. Some great build-up play from Giménez led to a handball in the box, and Torres buried the subsequent penalty. Ten minutes later, Joséma headed home the go-ahead goal from a set piece. Atleti saw out the match from there and head back to Spain with more international exposure and, of course, cash in the coffers.
This game saw the continuation of some tinkering that began against Guijuelo 10 days ago. Juanfran started the game at right wing and scored again (Šime Vrsaljko again began at right back) and Giménez moved into central midfield in the second half and notched the winning goal. The last 10 days have seen Atlético play two games that didn't matter a whole lot, and we’ll know if Simeone is serious about making his team more versatile in the Copa del Rey next Tuesday.