ATM XI: Oblak, Thomas, Godín, Savic, Felipe Luis, Gabi, Koke, Saúl (Augusto 73’), Correa (Carrasco 65’), Gameiro (Torres 69’), Griezmann.
LEV XI: Olazabal, Moore, Chema, Rober, Tono, Doukoure, Campana (Nano 69’), Jason (Ivi 52’), Bardhi, Morales (Samu Garcia 77’), Ünal.
Entering Saturday, Atlético Madrid had lost six and drawn two at Levante’s Estadi Ciutat de València. Though this is a different Levante side to the one that competed for a European place in 2011/12, Atlético would need to be on their game to get three points. The win against AS Roma was vital for Atleti’s season, and the nature of the win as well should have given the side some confidence as winter approaches.
Atlético opened the scoring inside five minutes thanks to a timely own goal by Rober Pier. The OG came from a wonderful run in behind by Kévin Gameiro, who crossed well, and the Levante center back finished as if he was a striker. A curious own goal, but a gift Atleti accepted gratefully, and it made things much easier right from the start.
Simeone rung the changes tactically to the side, with Gameiro and Ángel Correa playing as the front men and Antoine Griezmann often finding himself on the right side of the midfield four. For a team yet to discover their best set up, this was not surprising, but up to this point Griezmann had been spared from playing out of position. Having Gameiro and Correa up top made Atleti much more dynamic and direct offensively, as Griezmann often operates further back anyway. Both Correa and Gameiro have great pace and made use of it early in this match, testing a slow, flimsy Levante back line with probing runs in behind.
Atlético continued to find chances on the counter attack, with Griezmann looking comfortable in a wide role. Just before the half hour mark, Saúl’s ball over the top gave Correa a chance to put the ball into an empty net, but a horrific clearance gave Gameiro a chance even he could not miss.
Atleti were good value for the 2-0 halftime lead despite horrific errors by Levante’s defense. Los colchoneros created opportunities to score that we have not seen for much of the season. In fact, this was just the second time Atleti scored two goals in the first half since matchday two against Las Palmas.
Simeone’s men continued on the same path in the second half, threatening seemingly every time they crossed midfield against a poor Levante. Though the two were even on the total number of shots, Jan Oblak had virtually nothing to save, as the back line held strong. The first shot on target Oblak faced from Enes Ünal was from great distance and had not a chance of beating a keeper of Oblak’s quality.
Just before the hour mark, Atlético’s tremendous defensive pressing paid off when Griezmann provided a brilliant reverse pass to Gameiro on the penalty spot, and the Frenchman calmly slotted home. Griezmann’s deployment on the right wing began to look like a masterstroke, as the #7 was more influential than he has been all season. Gameiro, too, deserves credit, as his finishing touch appeared to return for this match.
Speaking of Gameiro, he repaid his countryman on 65 minutes with a fantastic ball into the six-yard-box that Griezmann finished off clinically. Just three minutes later, Griezmann got his second after Olazábal saved Gameiro’s shot. This would be Gameiro’s last involvement as he was subbed off for Fernando Torres just after the fifth goal.
After the fifth goal, the game slowed down some, with Torres having two good opportunities to make the day even worse for Levante. But Atlético’s defense got its clean sheet, and the attackers looked better than they have all season. There is no doubt that Levante were extraordinarily poor on the day, but Atleti probed them throughout the match and deserved their dominating win.
The mattress makers remain unbeaten on the season and overtook Real Madrid on goal difference in what was possibly the best match of the season so far.