Celta Vigo thumped 10-man Atlético Madrid on Saturday evening, as Antonio Mohamed bested childhood friend Diego Simeone at Balaídos.
After Atlético had grown into the game, Maxi Gómez capitalized on a Diego Godín error to fire his side into the lead less than a minute into the second half. Iago Aspas added a header about six minutes later, and Atleti’s disjointed attack failed to respond when required. Celta were comfortable throughout the second half and ended the visitors’ recent success in this fixture — Atleti had won the past three in Vigo and the past six league meetings.
Atlético began the match in what was nominally a defensive 4-4-2 with Koke wide, but it soon became apparent that it was much weirder than that. Giménez quickly drifted back to central defense, which left Savić as the makeshift right back for a time before Correa took over as a wing back of sorts. Surprisingly, this “no real right back” strategy did not hurt Atleti much, as Celta did not threaten in the first half and often got tied up in midfield — where Saúl and Thomas outmuscled the smaller Fran Beltrán and Stanislav Lobotka.
In attack, Atlético missed Lemar’s passing. Many passes ended up a few feet off their intended target, which made things easy to clean up for Celta goalkeeper Sergio Álvarez or his defense. There were good periods of play for the visitors — especially later in the first half — but they lacked the definition, the precision necessary to go ahead. Neither side managed a shot on target in the first 45 minutes. Antoine Griezmann came closest with a long shot that twisted wide.
However, Celta got the opener anyway when Diego Godín tried to corral a Filipe Luís back pass and slipped, which allowed Maxi to gallop in on goal and beat Jan Oblak at his near post. Just 44 seconds into the second half, Atlético were made to pay for their imprecision and lack of attention to the details.
It didn’t take long for the hosts to doubled their lead, either. Maxi floated a pass into the box for Aspas, and the Celta academy graduate caught Savić flat-footed and Oblak off-guard with a soft header that nestled into the net.
With that, Simeone at last decided to bring on Lemar and handed Nikola Kalinić his debut as well, though Celta remained on top. Atlético continued to have a physical advantage in midfield, but Lobotka and co. passed rings around them. Atleti could not generate the opportunities they wanted and Celta were very organized in defense.
Savić was shown a second yellow card for a handball on 70 minutes, which brought an end to his difficult evening. There was little else Simeone could do, and his players lifted fruitless cross after fruitless cross into the box. Atlético attempted just one shot in the second half and could not force Álvarez into a save over the 90 minutes. And it could have been worse — Gustavo Cabral had a headed goal overturned after review, as he was offside.
The slow starts are no joke, and this year is no different — Atlético took four of a possible nine points from their opening three matches and have it all to sort out in the next two weeks. Cholo’s defense is creakier and he has not yet found his best midfield. Diego Costa is not in form and neither is Griezmann. With the Champions League resuming on Sept. 18 and many players leaving to rejoin their national teams, Atleti are in a race against time to fix what has ailed them post-Super Cup.
CEL XI: Álvarez; Roncaglia, Cabral, Araujo; Mallo, Lobotka (Brais 81’), Beltrán, Alonso; Aspas (Boufal 88’), Sisto (Yokuslu 69’), Maxi Gómez.
Goals: Maxi 46’ Aspas 52’
ATM XI: Oblak; Giménez (Arias 68’), Savić (red card 70’), Godín, Filipe Luís; Partey (Lemar 56’) , Saúl, Correa (Kalinić 56’), Koke; Griezmann, Costa.