ATM XI: Oblak; Juanfran, Godín, Savić, Filipe Luís; Saúl, Koke, Correa (Thomas 81’), Lemar (Vitolo 62’); Griezmann (Gelson 72’), Costa
VCF XI: Neto; Piccini, Garay (Diakheby 67’), Gabriel, Gayà; Kondogbia, Parejo, Soler (Batshuayi 76’), Wass; Rodrigo, Santi Mina (Gameiro 67’)
Atlético Madrid faced a very tough start to their league season, with an away visit to Mestalla. The team was almost the same as faced Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, with Rodri missing out in favor of Ángel Correa while Filipe replaced the suspended Lucas. Our first look at Atlético’s Liga formation was the traditional 4-4-2, with Saúl and Koke central and Correa wide with Thomas Lemar. It was unsurprising to see Diego Simeone stick with what has worked so well for him over the years, though it is anticipated that there will be a bit more tactical flexibility than there has been in the past.
Atlético’s first good opportunity came around the 15-minute mark, when Costa did well to muscle his way into the box and get a shot at Neto. At the other end, Valencia struggled to create clear-cut chances, with their best opportunity coming through Rodrigo, who had a speculative effort go just wide of Oblak.
It would be the visitors who struck first on 27 minutes. Antoine Griezmann provided a sensational reverse ball to Correa, who only had to put it by Neto after he beat the offside trap. It was pure inspiration from the Frenchman and a simple, but quality finish from Atleti’s new #10. Just five minutes later, Atlético could have doubled their lead through Costa, who shot inches wide from a tight angle. The big man could have played in Griezmann, but you can’t begrudge a striker as good as Costa for being selfish in front of goal.
In Koke and Saúl, los colchoneros had a much more creative, if less defensive, midfield than usual under Simeone. It worked fairly well, but at times there was too much space left behind the two when they would push up the pitch. This could be amended with a player like Rodri deployed in the deepest central midfield role, but this would require the sacrifice of a striker or winger. On the positive side, Filipe Luís looked like his old self. While the Brazilian has been linked with a move away — and this could be a “shop window” kind of performance — it is hugely promising to see Filipe retain his physical prowess to start the season.
It took only ten minutes into the second half for Rodrigo to equalize for Valencia after Diego Godín completely missed a defensive header. Atlético were made to rue their missed opportunities because of it and then had to come out and push more than they would have liked. On 65 minutes, Gabriel Paulista hit Jan Oblak’s post from a corner as the momentum continued to swing in Valencia’s direction. Atlético still had a decent amount of possession but struggled to get the ball into dangerous areas.
As the game headed to a close, Atleti could not generate any good shooting opportunities and continually gave up chances on the counter. Five minutes from time, Dani Parejo went down with an “injury” and on a counter Thomas kicked the ball out. While fair play should be appreciated, if the referee does not blow the whistle, keep playing. That was a golden opportunity to regain the lead and instead it was wasted.
Frankly, Simeone’s men were fortunate to leave this match with a draw after a good first half. The team fell off completely in the second 45’. Had Valencia not wasted some fantastic counter attacking opportunities, or Oblak been as good as he was, Atleti would have left with nothing. Changes should be made for the next match against Rayo Vallecano, specifically in defense.