Atlético Madrid made the most out of two huge chances in the first half on Sunday, converting both in a span of three minutes as the Rojiblancos defeated local rivals Rayo Vallecano in matchday 28 of LaLiga.
Right wing-back Nahuel Molina scored his first goal for the club midway through the first half, finishing off a clinical counterattack with a slick shot from inside the penalty area. Soon after, center-back Mario Hermoso added his third league goal of the season, nodding Yannick Carrasco’s corner past Stole Dimitrievski at the back post.
“It’s great to win this game,” Stefan Savić told ESPN’s Sid Lowe after the final whistle. “It’s a difficult pitch, we knew it was going to be tough, and we were very well-prepared. We’re very happy because we’re on a good winning run, and we hope we can continue like this.”
Somewhat improbably, Sunday’s win — Atlético’s fifth in a row — brings Diego Simeone’s side to within two points of sputtering Real Madrid. Los Merengues lost 3-2 to Villarreal on Saturday night, and their former defender Hermoso scored the eventual winner for Atleti the next night.
Hermoso has been ever-present and largely in fantastic form during this 12-game unbeaten run.
“What has changed (since the World Cup)? The first thing was realizing the things we weren’t doing well, wanting to turn around the unpleasant situation we were going through, and knowing what it means to wear the Atleti shirt, what it costs,” Hermoso told broadcaster DAZN on Sunday.
Simeone wanted Atlético to punish Rayo by optimizing the spaces that the hosts left behind, and as a result, the final possession figures narrowly favored Andoni Iraola’s men. Accordingly, the goals arrived in classic Cholismo fashion — a ruthless counter started by Antoine Griezmann and a set-piece delivery from Carrasco.
“Rayo have a characteristic that does not change — they press very high, they try to recover the ball in the opponent’s third, they’re one of the teams with the most recoveries in that part of the pitch,” El Cholo told DAZN after the game. “Morata ran very well into space, the first goal comes from a move that we pulled off very well, with the support of Griezmann and the verticality of Morata and Molina.”
Molina’s goal was his first since he opened the scoring for Argentina in December’s World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands. After scoring on Sunday, he immediately grabbed Ángel Correa’s shirt and held it aloft as a tribute to his teammate and friend — who was not with the team Sunday following the death of his mother.
Nahuel Molina dedicated his goal to Angel Correa who lost his mother recently— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 9, 2023
Brothers ❤️ pic.twitter.com/huk3wxpsn6
Nahuel Molina: "It was a difficult week with Correa, we wanted to dedicate it to him too and let him know that the team is with him. We wanted to accompany him with the nice gesture of the shirt." pic.twitter.com/H342fe4EL1— The Partido a Partido Podcast (@ThePaPPod) April 9, 2023
“Molina was finally able to score, he had been playing very well and I’m happy for him,” he said. “The team continues to grow, and we got a win from a match where we played a very good game until the seventy-something minute.”
Despite being a man down following defender Florian Lejeune’s 62nd-minute red card, Rayo got back into the match through left-back Fran García’s 85th-minute missile of a goal. However, Rayo would not seriously trouble Jan Oblak again, and the Rojiblancos kept their composure to see out a deserved win.
“They scored an amazing goal, a goal you can’t defend, it was a great shot. After that, of course, you get a little bit nervous,” Savić said. “But I think we controlled the game. We had more chances to score, we didn’t close the game (by scoring a third goal), but at the end, the team was playing very well and we’re very happy.”