Atlético Madrid beat Valencia at Mestalla on Saturday evening, as Toni Lato turned a 79th minute Yannick Carrasco cross into his own net for the game’s only goal. Here are three figures to take away from Atlético’s sixth straight league win, which ties Los Colchoneros with Real Sociedad atop LaLiga.
The year in which Atlético last defeated Valencia away — current Valencia forward Kévin Gameiro scored in that game (for the other side, of course).
Diego Simeone could not turn to a number nine with Luis Suárez in isolation and Diego Costa dealing with a potentially life-threatening blood clot in his leg. So, the coach got creative on Saturday. Ángel Correa and Thomas Lemar started up top, and the Argentine fielded Mario Hermoso and Renan Lodi down the left for the first time.
Atlético dominated the first half and hovered near 70 percent possession. Lemar was inspired, forcing two excellent saves from Jaume Domènech. In his 64 minutes, the Frenchman recorded three shots on target, three key passes, and three dribbles. It was his best display since...well I can’t remember when. Valencia’s best chance came through big pivot Uros Racic, who flicked a half-volley off Jan Oblak’s right hand.
Simeone threw on João Félix at halftime. Carrasco and Vitolo followed 20 minutes later. Félix battled, but he misses Suárez as much as anybody. Ultimately, the Belgian would have to make the difference with 11 minutes to go. Aiming for Vitolo, he flashed a dangerous cross through the six-yard box. Lato was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The own goal snapped a 214-minute Atlético drought.
Finally, fourth sub Geoffrey Kondogbia’s steel and press resistance helped his new team see out the match and take three huge points against his old team.
Atlético’s possession percentage on Saturday. Throughout the years, we’ve written about the rumblings of a “new” Atleti — and the grumblings about the team eventually reverting to type, starting the process over. Now, it seems Simeone has found a way to meld his side’s recognized identity with an ambitious, attacking setup — even without a number nine.
Though this match ended with a familiar scoreline, Atlético outshot Valencia 14-5, with six shots on target to Valencia’s two. Atleti won the xG battle 1.11 to 0.18. Los Che completed one pass within roughly 20 yards of goal — Los Rojiblancos completed nine.
Atlético are averaging 13.2 shots per game, second in LaLiga. That mark last season was 11.8, and Atleti are up to 7.8 penalty area shots per game after that tally stood at 6.8 in 2019/20. Simeone’s fresh 3-4-1-2 (or 3-4-2-1) formation has freed Kieran Trippier from many defensive duties and allowed Cholo to field an extra attacker as a wingback. Atleti have rung up nearly 85 percent pass accuracy team-wide, as a higher line and a centrally-based Koke have seen the team maintain possession and distribute the ball faster.
Koke’s appearances across all competitions for Atlético. The captain tied longtime wide man Enrique Collar for third on the club’s all-time list as he inches ever closer to Adelardo’s record. The 28-year-old is 82 appearances away from breaking it.
VCF XI Domenech; Wass (Jason 84’), Gabriel, Guillamón (Mangala 57’), Lato; Soler, Racic, Musah (Sobrino 71’), Guedes; Vallejo (Correia 71’), Maxi Gómez (Gameiro 71’).
ATM XI Oblak; Trippier, Savić, Giménez, Hermoso; Saúl (Carrasco 60’), Koke, Trippier, Lodi (Félix 46’); Llorente, Lemar (Kondogbia 65’); Correa (Vitolo 65’)
Goal Lato 79’ (o.g.)