It was a cold, early evening in Sweden, where the sun sets at around 3PM in November. Malmö looked to take revenge on Atlético Madrid for their last meeting, at the Vincente Calderon, where they suffered a 5-0 drubbing.
But they couldn’t pull it off, as goals from Koke and Raul Garcia ensured the Spaniards won their third Champions League group match. Atletico now lead Group A with a three point advantage over the only team that they have lost to, Olympiakos. The win put Atleti in a strong position, as the club now need just three points to secure qualification for the next round.
The Atleti starting eleven was a rested side, which included the returning captain Gabi, who had missed the past few games due to injury. Last week’s two-goal hero, Antoine Griezmann, was on the bench, with Diego Simeone opting for Raul Garcia instead; perhaps a wise decision, as Malmö looked to play rough. Then again, nobody ever doubts Simeone’s line-up.
Malmö, who had not conceded a goal at home in the Champions League, starting off the first-half fired-up. The first 45 minutes were rough and full of hard challenges – Malmö were urged on by their exuberant crowd, who were eagerly awaiting a goal from their team. However, Atleti constructed their attacks carefully and their efforts were rewarded at the half-hour mark, when Juanfran played a pass to Koke, who put the ball in the back of the net in what was a gorgeous display.
You could have heard a pin drip in the Swedbank Stadion.
The Allsvenskan side looked capable of equalising in the 38th, when a decent header from Kiese Thelin flew wide, followed up by a rather desperate shot from Malmö captain Markus Rosenberg, which was ultimately blocked by an always-ready Moya. A bit of useless aggression against Arda Turan resulted in an Atletico free-kick on the left, but to no avail.
The Swedes came close to equalising a minute before the break. Rosenberg passed to Emil Forsberg, but Miranda shut it down (not much gets past the Brazilian).
In a repeat of last Saturday’s win over Cordoba, Atleti headed into the break 1-0 up.
Malmö were rejuvenated in the second-half, and their fury certainly hadn’t dissipated. They had more chances in the opening minutes of the second-half than they did throughout the entire first-half, with Tinnerholm lining up a great shot, which Diego Godin clamped down on. A flurry of yellow cards for Atletico followed, when Thelin was fouled by Miranda in the 50th minute, which was followed up by dubious cards for Godin and Juanfran. The referee’s actions prompted a Mama Bear reaction on the sidelines from an incensed Simeone – justified, perhaps, since nobody could tell what the cards were for.
Danger arose in the 57th minute when Guilherme Siqueira chested the ball back to Moya, providing Tinnerholm with an opportunity to slot the ball in, but Moya managed to shut it down with no bother.
With 60 minutes gone, Malmö’s Erik Johansson appeared to hold his buttocks in pain before being replaced by Simon Kroon. Forsberg soon won a free-kick after a foul from Koke, but made nothing of it. The Swedes showed intent, but this was to be the story of their match.
Finally, with less than 15 minutes remaining, Gabi repeated the pass from the earlier goal by, once again, elegantly crossing to Juanfran. This time it was Raul Garcia who pounced, and he put his foot through the ball to rocket it into the left corner, giving Atleti a 2-0 lead.
The win today, along with Juventus’ 3-2 victory over Olympiakos, gave Atlético Madrid a firm three-point lead over their Group A rivals. In three weeks, Atlético will host Olympiakos at the Calderon, giving them the chance to reverse their only loss in the tournament so far.