Atlético Madrid rode a little luck to take three points in a complicated game at Mestalla on Monday night. Antoine Griezmann emerged from the bench for a third consecutive game and scored his second goal — one off his tally for the entire 2021/22 league season — to nudge Atlético over the line against Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia.
Atlético were victorious and rang up seven shots on target despite being largely outplayed during the first half and finishing the match with just 29 percent possession. Diego Simeone, who has clearly been told by the club to strictly monitor Griezmann’s minutes, inserted the Frenchman alongside midfielder Thomas Lemar just after the hour. Within five minutes, the duo combined to turn the tables on Los Che.
Let’s look at how it happened:
The sequence that decided Monday night’s game at Mestalla starts with a Reinildo Mandava throw-in.
Valencia center-back Eray Cömert presses up on João Félix, resulting in the throw evading the Portuguese. Right-back Thierry Correia chests the ball down for Hugo Guillamón, but the pass intended for the midfielder is a poor one. Correia’s hesitation allows Lemar — who started around the halfway line — to jump the passing lane, intercept the slow-rolling ball, and accelerate into a counterattack.
Griezmann is hanging out in the center circle, and he times his forward run perfectly to match Lemar.
Lemar takes off with a driving run toward the penalty area, switching to his right foot about 25 yards out. This further destabilizes the Valencia defense. Álvaro Morata makes a clever inside run as Lemar cuts outside onto his weaker foot, which removes center-back Mouctar Diakhaby from the play.
Watch left-back Toni Lato (whose unfortunate own goal in this fixture two years ago helped Atlético win that game, too). He is scrambling to get back into position, and Lemar’s cut to the outside crosses him up completely. This indecision opens up more space for Lemar’s France teammate Griezmann to sprint into.
At the bottom of the clip, you can also see Gattuso putting his hands on his head, perhaps because he already knows how this sequence is going to end.
Lemar plays the final pass just as Correia tries to pry the ball loose with a slide tackle — this effort was unsuccessful, like when I try to do it in FIFA. Lato does well to recover and challenge Griezmann, who kills the ball with a touch on the edge of the penalty area before he uncorks a hopeful shot (0.04 xG, per Understat).
But if you don’t shoot, you can’t score.
Griezmann’s attempt clatters off PSG-bound Carlos Soler, who turns into the ball to try to block it from reaching Giorgi Mamardashvili. Instead, the heavy deflection catches the Georgian off-guard.
Griezmann’s 11th career goal against Valencia — his seventh for Atlético — extended the Colchoneros’ unbeaten streak against this particular opponent to 16 games and warded off some of the negativity that set in following the Villarreal loss in matchday two.
The 31-year-old has played less than 30 minutes in each of Atlético’s games so far. The club is determined to avoid paying Barcelona €40 million to sign him permanently after the season. It seems these restrictions on Griezmann’s playing time will remain in force unless or until Barça indicate a willingness to negotiate a lower fee.
“As long as Griezmann manages to respond as he has, having him on the field is very important, and I understand you have to put him on when it suits the team best,” Simeone said after the game Monday.
More important for Simeone is that his team kept a second clean sheet in as many road games after recording just three shutouts from 19 away days last season. Axel Witsel’s emergence as a viable option at center-back has restored calm and composure to Atlético’s defense — which seems more-or-less set already, as neither Felipe nor Mario Hermoso has played a single minute yet.
But with the transfer window still open for a couple days, Cholo won’t take anything for granted.
“You can’t imagine (the stress of waiting for the window to shut),” he said. “Something can always happen that is (financially) important for the clubs. We are not the owners, but coaches.”
VAL XI Mamardashvili; Correia (Foulquier 69’), Cömert, Diakhaby, Lato (Diego López 81’); Musah, Guillamón (Nico 69’), Soler; Castillejo (Fran Pérez 74’), Lino, Marcos André (Maxi Gómez 74’).
ATM XI Oblak; Giménez, Witsel, Reinildo; Llorente, de Paul (Lemar 62’), Kondogbia (Griezmann 62’), Koke, Saúl (Carrasco 46’); João Félix (Correa 83’), Morata (Cunha 83’).
Goals Griezmann 66’