Atlético Madrid suffered their first league loss on Saturday, losing 3-1 against a sharp-witted Valencia side at Camp Mestalla, in a match riddled with errors and rough play.
The bad news started early with Atléti’s usually even-headed Miranda striking first – but in all the wrong ways, as he headed a ball into his own net in the sixth minute. Atlético couldn’t seem to recover from the disappointment, as just a minute later Valencia’s Andre Gomes booted in a goal to earn his side a second, this time on their own merit.
Valencia rounded off their goal count five minutes later, with a header by rough-houser Nicolas Otamendi, assisted by Pablo Piatti, making it 3-0 after just 13 minutes.
Valencia, who has been compared similarly in style and ambition to Atléti, never let down their defence. They were rough—at times dirty, with four yellows handed out by referee Teixeira Vitienes; one for dissent and three for rough fouls. I thought the referee was soft toward Atlético, a favour I was willing to take, even though it didn’t end up helping them one bit—and that was Atléti’s own fault.
Atlético did manage a goal – a nice header from Mandzukic in the 29th minute – providing plenty of time for Atléti to mount a come back, but Valencia’s defence held up. Valencia’s World Cup star Shkodran Mustafi was all over Atleti’s Guilherme Siqueira like white on rice, but the worst part was the countless set pieces Atlético had at their disposal – and merely squandered. Atléti are the undisputed set piece experts but today they were roundly shut down.
After 45th minutes, Atléti were given a bow-wrapped gift of a penalty-kick right in front of the net. They couldn’t have been any closer to the goal if they’d walked it in themselves, but somehow, Siqueira missed it with a soft touch that Valencia keeper Diego Alves caught with no bother at all.
There are plenty of reasons why Atlético’s performance was so poor today – sloggy pitch, sun in their eyes, exhaustion from a mid-week Champions League match, but all those are just excuses.
Valencia was a worthy opponent and unlike the midweek Champions League match against Juventus, who have also been compared to Atléti, Valencia were well prepared. They’ve worked hard and their training has been reportedly kicked into a higher gear, and it certainly showed today. Plus, Valencia have something to prove.
Remind you of anyone, Atléti? It should.
It wasn’t all error and poor performance on Atlético’s part though, and I don’t think Simeone is looking to blame the pitch conditions. There was hard work from Los Colchoneros, to be sure – Koke stood out as usual, but I thought usually reliable players like Godin were taking a nap. At one point late in the second half I saw Godin and thought, ‘when did he come on?’.. He’d been on from the start, of course.
Atlético did a fantastic job of creating opportunities and winning set pieces, but – and there always was a but – Valencia knew what they were doing throughout.
Atléti didn’t do themselves any favors. Alessio Cerci, who hasn’t seen a lot of play time so far this season, managed to get himself booked in the 68th minute, just a few minutes after coming on, before being shown a second yellow and his parting red for handball 15 minutes later – which allowed him to kick the ball in the net, one of the few times the ball got past the vigilant Alves, but it didn’t count. Of course it didn’t.
It would be nice if the whole game didn’t count for Atlético, but I think Valencia and its supporters would have words to say about that. Anyway, Valencia has every right to be pleased, it was a deserved win.
As Simeone said after the match, “We made errors that we don’t normally make and they made the most of it.”
It wasn’t Atléti’s day and they need to be smart about learning from their mistakes. The good news is that it’s still early in the campaign.
The bad news is that Atlético could fall down the league table depending how the weekend finishes up, and it will take some careful work to climb back up. Provisionally, Valencia just saw themselves into first place; by the end of the weekend they could find themselves in third and Atléti in fifth, overtaken by Real Madrid, Sevilla, and Celta Vigo.
My hope – but also my bet – is that Simeone and the squad take a long, hard look at that fact.