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Three things learned from Atlético Madrid’s dramatic comeback win over Valencia

Two goals in injury time turned the tie around.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Valencia CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

It looked like Atlético Madrid were prepared for yet more disappointment as Valencia raced to a two-goal lead in the Spanish capital on Saturday.

But drama was waiting just around the corner to provide a much-needed confidence boost that Atlético will hope can kick start their season.

Following first-half goals from Yunus Musah and Hugo Duro, Atlético had it all to do in the second half and had to act accordingly. Atleti didn’t properly start their comeback until the 64th minute when Matheus Cunha tapped in. After that, Los Rojiblancos scored two goals in stoppage to change the outcome of a match at that point in a game for the first time this century.

Here are three things we learned through the chaos at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano:

Diego Simeone has still got it

Who would’ve thought that bringing on Felipe Monteiro, the past it and ageing defender, for João Félix, the young superstar, was the solution?

The Metropolitano most certainly didn’t, judging by the whistles and boos that rang around the stadium as the substitution was announced on Saturday.

“With Felipe, we were trying to watch out for counters when we were going all-out,” Cholo Simeone explained post-match.

He did just that, and the switch allowed Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco to double up down the left flank, which caused problems through the game’s final phase.

In addition, Ángel Correa and Matheus Cunha added much more intensity in attack, pressing high and drifting into wide positions higher up the field.

These swaps were just what Atlético needed, and added to the strain on visiting Valencia.

That the changes Simeone made won the game go to show his unrivaled talent. With such limited options to call upon, he managed to turn the game around with the likes of Felipe, Cunha, Correa, and Héctor Herrera. Only Correa would be in with a chance of starting in Atlético’s strongest line-up.

This win could prove to be a crucial turning point. Following reports of a breakdown in the dressing room, and with criticism for Simeone at its peak, it was a joyous image to see the coach embracing his players, the full squad celebrating following the final whistle. In particular, his hug and joke with Luis Suárez was some change from the Uruguayan’s tantrum after his substitution in the loss at Sevilla last month.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Valencia CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One other interesting notion is to look across the dugout. José Bordalás led Valencia with the kind of performance Simeone would have been proud of had it been his team up until the final moments, when the young squad lost its focus. While Simeone’s bench wasn’t the most exciting, four of Valencia’s five substitutes weren’t even registered for the first team.

If or when the time comes for Simeone to depart, Bordalás would almost certainly be the closest continuation.

João Félix and Matheus Cunha provide the perfect contrast

Two close friends within the Atleti squad, Félix got the nod to start against Valencia, but it was Cunha who came off the bench to change the game.

There can be little question that the Portugal international has far more natural talent, but he remains yet to convince at Atlético, either this season or since joining the club in 2019. Against Valencia, he was again quiet, with just one shot and only seven passes in the opposition half across 57 minutes. He dropped deep to find the ball without doing much defensive work, and he was lost in the transition. With Rodrigo De Paul far from his best, no-one picked up Félix’s attacking runs.

Following Correa’s introduction on the right, Félix took to the left but lacked requisite intensity. Dropping deep, there was little to no link-up play and he did not press high.

Cunha’s arrival changed that.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Valencia CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Carrasco and Hermoso teamed up on the left flank. The Belgian did the pressing, while Cunha did so in the middle as Suárez tired, while Hermoso provided an overlapping option.

Cunha’s work-rate saw him in the right place at the right time to spark the comeback with a goal from a corner, but his relationship to the Atlético fans was clear for all to see. While some voiced their displeasure with Félix as he skulked around the side of the pitch, throwing his shirt into the fans behind the goal on the way, there were no complaints about Cunha, who headed straight to the fans to celebrate the third goal.

Not only in term of attitude, but also in terms of fit, it’s evident that Cunha’s long-term future at Atlético looks much brighter than Félix’s.

Mario Hermoso is better at left wing than he is in defence

When considering what to do with a central defender who can’t defend, few cases would lead to suggesting “stick him on the left wing.”

First of all, consider Hermoso’s raw defensive ability. Yunus Musah’s opening goal was entirely the Atleti center-half’s fault. Pushing up too high, he lost the ball and was watching from the turf of the Valencia half as Gonçalo Guedes tore away to set up Musah. His absence forced Šime Vrsaljko to drift more central, opening more space for the young USMNT star.

The second goal did not cover the former Real Madrid defender in glory either, as he collided with José Maria Giménez and then failed to track Hugo Duro.

Hermoso was twice shown up by his poor positional awareness, which continues to prove problematic in his heavy game time. Such poor positioning repeatedly leaves Atleti vulnerable on the counter, while also spreading fear and uncertainty across the squad.

Hermoso’s questionable attitude compounds his continued gaffes in the defensive third. Following the Copa del Rey defeat to Real Sociedad, he complained about the refereeing. Days later, he stayed down on the turf flailing his arms while Valencia countered and scored owing to his loss of possession. It’s hard to imagine a player like Diego Godín, Stefan Savić or João Miranda doing the same.

Atletico Madrid v Valencia - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Hermoso doesn’t reflect the values Simeone has long looked for in a defender for his side. That may be why the Argentine boss opted to move him into a new position on the hour mark as he brought on Felipe to add defensive cover.

Cholo moved Hermoso into an offensive role, a marauding left wing-back who would even convert to left wing at times as Atlético bombarded Valencia. Thierry Correia, already fortunate not to have seen a second yellow, lasted only 15 minutes until Bordalás acted to remove him. Dimitri Foulquier didn’t fare much better.

Eventually, of course, it was Hermoso who showed up in the ideal position for a far-post tap in to seal the three points. That is what all Colchoneros will remember for some time to come.