Another Atlético Madrid away day came down to a moment of extra quality — not to mention good fortune — when Memphis Depay found the net on 89 minutes and steered the Colchoneros to a hardly-deserved 1-0 victory at Celta Vigo.
Atlético might have played Celta at least to a draw according to expected goals, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. After Sunday’s game opened up in the second half, Jan Oblak had to claw Iago Aspas’s 1v1 effort off the goal line, and not long after he watched the Celta star smack a free kick off the post. Making matters worse, Stefan Savić pulled back Haris Seferović with 20 minutes remaining and was shown his third red card in five games.
How large this looms now!!! https://t.co/lIa637C91r— Into the Calderón (@intothecalderon) February 12, 2023
Diego Simeone seemed alright with a 0-0 draw that ensured Atlético would maintain a slim edge in the top-four race. But almost out of nowhere, Memphis popped up with his first goal for the club (and his first goal as a substitute since last March) to win the match in the final minute.
The Dutchman’s spinning, slow-rolling finish showed a killer instinct Atleti have lacked virtually this entire season. It should generate optimism around the ex-FC Barcelona forward — who celebrated his goal (and his 29th birthday) on Monday with a new music drop:
ᶠ*ᶜᵏ ᵗʰᵉ ᵖᵒˡⁱᵗⁱᶜˢ, ʸᵒᵘ ᵏⁿᵒʷ ᵗʰᵃᵗ $ʰ*ᵗ ᶜᵃⁿ’ᵗ ᵇʳᵉᵃᵏ ᵐᵉ!— Memphis Depay (@Memphis) February 13, 2023
ᴺᵉʷ ᶜˡᵘᵇ @atleticodemadrid
ᴺᵉʷ ᵍᵒᵃˡˢ ⚽️
ˢᵃᵐᵉ ᵐᵉ ♂️
ᴬˢᵉᵐ ᴮᵉᵇᵃ ᵒᵘᵗ ⁿᵒʷ
Let’s break it down (the goal, not the fire track).
This goal — like Atlético’s winner against Osasuna a couple weeks ago — begins with a Mario Hermoso long ball.
I have written and talked about Hermoso on Colchonero Chat fairly frequently in recent weeks. In an unforeseen role reversal, Hermoso’s regular defensive partner keeps getting sent off, but he keeps chugging along. He hasn’t played this well in at least two years.
On Sunday, Hermoso completed 12 of his 16 long balls and finished with 90 percent pass accuracy overall. The gif above shows his most impactful pass of all — a clean 40-yard diagonal that takes out Celta’s midfield line and ends up at Yannick Carrasco’s feet on the edge of the penalty area.
Since he’s cut out so many of the positional errors that made him a ticking time bomb of a footballer, Hermoso has become one of the first names on Simeone’s team sheet. This is largely because he is the only player on the team who will try this pass, let alone complete it.
Even after Carrasco cuts to his right and into the box, Celta defenders (7) still outnumber Atlético attackers (3) in front of Iván Villar’s goal. Carrasco is able to create a little space with a quick-twitch dribble around Óscar Mingueza (#3 in blue), but he draws two other defenders in doing so.
Forward Carles Pérez (#7) has tracked back to provide additional cover. He turns into Carrasco’s shot and knocks it down with his body, but the ball takes an odd bounce that changes its direction. If not for this deflection, Joseph Aidoo (#15) is likely in a position to clear.
Central defender Renato Tapia (playing out of position) also might have been able to hoof this ball out of the box. But Memphis understands this and, using his lower body strength, holds off Tapia and gives himself a chance should the ball bounce his way...which it does.
Memphis applies an instinctive, incisive finish to win the game. In one swift motion, he gains enough separation from Tapia to spin into his shot and poke the ball over the line with his right foot. Villar is very late to react and has no chance to keep this out — he leaves the net gaping for Memphis, as he was watching Carrasco dribble and cut in at the near post.
“An important goal, for him and above all for the team,” Simeone told Movistar after Sunday’s game. “This week he worked well, he needs minutes and he will compete in training to win them. There is competition between his teammates, and as coaches, it is good for us to have to make difficult decisions.”
This victory was a big one for Atlético. Though the Rojiblancos remain four points behind third-place Real Sociedad, they were able to maintain their own four-point edge over Real Betis. They also expanded their advantage on sixth-place Rayo Vallecano to five points.
Atleti return to the Cívitas Metropolitano next weekend for a matchup with Athletic Club, but Simeone’s men have felt anything but comfortable playing at home this year — they’ve notched only four wins from 10 attempts in the league. But if Memphis can get on the pitch and polish off chances like these, Atlético stand every chance of further consolidating what is likely to be an 11th consecutive top-four finish come June.
“I’m very happy. I came here to this beautiful club to score goals,” Memphis said after Sunday’s game. “I’m just waiting for more opportunities so I can score more and be more important for the team.”