Atlético Madrid secured a thumping 5-2 victory over Real Valladolid at the Estadio José Zorrilla on Sunday night, applying the pressure on Real Madrid to keep up hopes of finishing in LaLiga’s top two.
A rapid double just after 20 minutes from Nahuel Molina and José María Giménez gave Atlético the lead, with Álvaro Morata making it three before half-time. A dubious penalty awarded by Mateu Lahoz allowed Cyle Larin to pull one back, and Valladolid upped the pressure. Sergio Escudero headed in a second and Sergio León hit the woodwork, but Joaquín Fernández’s late own goal and then Memphis’ sweetener in injury time made the result safe.
Here are three things we learned from the game.
Nahuel Molina is an improvement on Kieran Trippier
As Kieran Trippier’s number one fan during his time at Atlético Madrid, it pains me to say this a little bit, but I think Nahuel Molina, on recent form, might even be an improvement on the English right-back.
Since the World Cup, Molina has been in inspired form, which has been in stark contrast to the nervy and inconsistent returns from his first few months. Against Valladolid, Molina scored to add to his assist against Mallorca and take his goal involvements to as many in his last two matches as in his previous 25 for the club.
2 - Nahuel Molina has been involved in two goals in his last two games for Atlético de Madrid in LaLiga (one goal and one assist), as many as in the rest of his 25 league games for Los Rojiblancos (one and one). Dagger. pic.twitter.com/GBCVzVmNok— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 30, 2023
Operating down the right flank in Sunday’s game, we saw Molina in a more advanced position than usual and with relatively few defensive duties. In fact, he didn’t even attempt a single tackle, and his number of possession recoveries were limited to just two.
Valladolid offered little down their left flank, with right-footed Iván Fresneda struggling to get forward, pinned back by Molina and Rodrigo de Paul. Their threat down the left wing came primarily from Cyle Larin’s occasional drift over.
Where Molina really steps up on Trippier is his contribution in the final third. Trippier never scored for Atlético, and in fact missed a penalty (in the Champions League against Lokomotiv Moscow), but Molina has already registered two goals and is looking like a potent threat in the attacking third.
That extra burst of pace over the Englishman is what allows Molina to break into the final third, particularly on the counter, and find himself in goalscoring positions.
In doing so, Atlético have a more symmetrical shape. Yannick Carrasco is already able to do that on the left flank, and while he’s a very different threat, the ability to contribute in the box on either flank gives Atleti more flexibility and makes them more unpredictable. An improvement.
On his day, Josema is one of Atleti’s stars
On a night without Jan Oblak between the sticks, and where Mario Hermoso did not have one of his strongest displays of recent months, it was up to José Giménez to step up, and he did just that as the leader of Atlético’s defensive unit, contributing crucially at both ends to swing the result in Atleti’s favour.
With Atleti dominating early on, Giménez dropped in a long ball that set up Nahuel Molina to give the visitors the lead, thus claiming only his second assist in LaLiga since 2018 in the most unusual of circumstances. It’s the kind of distribution from the back that Diego Simeone has been searching for. Hermoso has become a regular almost for this trait alone.
JOSEMA, THE DIFFERENCE MAKER!— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) April 30, 2023
Atlético Madrid lead Real Valladolid 2-0 after 25 minutes and would you believe it; José María Giménez has been directly involved in both goals.
El Comandante provided the assist for the opener, and headed home the second goal himself.
More characteristic of the Uruguayan warrior was how he rose highest to head in and score the second goal only four minutes later. In the space of just 240 seconds, Giménez had doubled his tally of goals and assists across the last three seasons. It also meant that he scored a second goal in LaLiga this season, a figure he has never before reached.
It wasn’t just that which saw him stand out though. Giménez’s reading of the game continues to be excellent and in doing so he was able to keep Valladolid quiet, winning all of his aerial duels and making six clearances.
Giménez is one of those players from whom Atleti fans feel that they can demand more, particularly this season. But he is also one who has stood up when it’s mattered. Against Valladolid, without Oblak or Stefan Savić, he could have wobbled. Instead, he produced one of his best performances all season.
Just as was the case against Real Madrid, Giménez was able to provide an offensive threat while looking solid defensively, and his form in recent weeks is among the best and most consistent that we have seen from him for some time.
— Atlético Stats (@atletico_stats_) April 30, 2023
El Atleti ha marcado a balón parado en 5 de las últimas 10 jornadas:
Giménez vs Madrid (saque de falta)
Morata vs Girona (córner)
Hermoso vs Rayo (córner)
Griezmann vs Almería (córner)
Giménez vs Valladolid (saque de falta) pic.twitter.com/Plz86ZRLlx
Memphis is a tool that makes Atlético better
When Atlético Madrid have all of their forwards available, it almost feels as though they all play better too. That was the case again in Valladolid as both Álvaro Morata and Memphis Depay got on the scoresheet, while Antoine Griezmann claimed two assists and Ángel Correa played the pass that forced Joaquín Fernández’s own goal.
On his return from injury, it became obvious perhaps quite how much Atleti had missed the Dutchman in particular.
Introduced for the last 11 minutes, Memphis looked to have that explosive energy that helps him to bring something different, so much so that Joaquín Fernández ended up injured trying to stop him on the fifth goal.
Memphis’s energy against tired legs was a real nuisance, and incredibly, every single one of his actions in those 11 minutes was successful. It was exactly the kind of confidence boost that a forward needs after a spell on the sidelines.
Not that you could tell that he was at all rusty. His impressive solo goal was enough to leave even Valladolid fans in awe, and it showed the step up in quality and directness compared to Atlético’s attack in the first half of the season.
Epic solo goal by Memphis Depay pic.twitter.com/pXCt5dH87E— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 30, 2023
With the fixtures coming thick and fast, and midweek fixtures in consecutive weeks, having depth in his attacking ranks could not have come at a better time for Cholo Simeone. And when that depth is a player with Memphis’s class, it’s even better.