It is sometimes a very inhospitable ground but Atletico Madrid arrived at Balaidos for a Saturday afternoon kickoff in dire need of three points. The international break felt longer than normal after Atletico’s slow start to the season as the fallout continued from the draws vs. Alavés and at Leganes, serving as a referendum on everything from frustrated post-match comments to the very nature of Cholismo itself. Atleti had to take three points Saturday - maybe it didn’t need to be convincing but it needed to happen, especially with a midweek trip to the Netherlands looming.
Celta Vigo needed to have a good day too, after opening its season with losses to two other Madrid sides. Against the backdrop of Balaidos, a battle was anticipated and panic would set in for the side that did not take maximum points.
After 45 minutes, it certainly did not look like Atletico would take maximum points. Diego Simeone’s attack - featuring a Yannick Carrasco/Fernando Torres/Antoine Griezmann front three - failed to get on its scoring boots and the final ball was consistently off. In addition, Celta nearly scored after Theo Bongonda found himself 1v1 with Jan Oblak after a defensive mixup.
But after halftime, Simeone and his team had had enough. Less than 10 minutes after the restart, Atletico scored its first goal from open play this season. Griezmann settled a Stefan Savic long ball and found himself with yards of space as the Celta defense tried to recover. The Frenchman crossed into the box for an onrushing, onside Koke, who finished the chance with class. It was like a weight coming off the shoulders.
There would be more to come, however. Griezmann took it upon himself to put the result out of sight, scoring two headers in less than 10 minutes - the first a soft, looping effort from a Saul Niguez cross, the second an absolute bullet after Juanfran supplied an excellent delivery. Finally, substitute Angel Correa was set up by Koke at the near post following some super holdup play from Kevin Gameiro - another substitute - and the 21-year-old made no mistake despite a difficult finish.
And thus, Atletico have steadied the ship - and in the nick of time, too, seeing as a tough run of fixtures awaits. A very powerful showing in the last 45 has restored some faith (until the next draw, at least) and this may be the springboard Atleti required. PSV are next up on Tuesday before Sporting Gijon visit the Vicente Calderon next Saturday.