by Satish Sekar at the Mestalla © Satish Sekar (April 27th 2014)
Diego Simeone’s Atlético de Madrid team responded to city rivals Real Madrid’s emphatic 4-0 demolition of Ossasuna with a 1-0 defeat of Juan Pizzi’s Valencia at the Mestalla. Raúl García latched on to Gabi’s chip pass to profit from goalkeeper Guaita’s error of judgement. Guaita came to collect, but got nowhere near it, leaving an empty net.
It proved to be the decisive moment of the match – one that Guaita will want to forget, even though he partially redeemed himself by twice denying Diego Costa, when the £32m rated striker was through on goal with just the keeper to beat. José Mourinho will have mixed feelings – delighted that Costa can be so profligate ahead of next week’s crunch second-leg, but wondering if so wasteful a striker is the answer to Chelsea’s misfiring strike-force.
Simeone’s side were well organised in a flat 4-4-2 formation that saw David Villa to the ground he graced with such distinction. In an era where former players are jeered and goaded, the response of the Mestalla faithful to Villa was refreshing. Never was his touch booed and when Simeone chose to substitute Villa, the Mestalla rose to applaud him off the pitch. Villa, touched by the reception, returned the applause. Eight minutes later García was jeered off the pitch when he was substituted. José Sosa replaced him.
To and Fro
Paco Alcacer is far from the finished article, but the young striker has forced his way into Pizzi’s plans and he almost surprised Thibault Courtois after 3 minutes. Alcacer’s shot beat Belgium’s number one – currently on loan from Chelsea – but agonisingly for los Ches the far post too. Valencia had the best of the opening quarter of an hour, but Atlético had the better chances. Villa almost found Costa, but was denied by a smart claim by Guaita and a belated offside and Villa’s delightful shot from the edge of the area just cleared the crossbar.
Clear chances were at a premium, while both sides challenged each other without compromise, but no cards were shown until Jonas’ kicked the ball away after a free-kick had been awarded to the visitors. After 38 minutes Costa found Koke in space, but the chance was wasted as Koke blazed over without testing Guaita.
Costa did little to enhance his reputation this afternoon. A defensive error put him through with just Guaita to beat, but the keeper thwarted him with his legs. A striker of Costa’s ability should not have given Guaita a chance. Villa was replaced after an hour. Shortly afterwards, Algerian international Sofiane Feghouli replaced Antonio Barragán.
With 25 minutes remaining Jonas Gonçalves, largely frustrated by the lack of opportunities finally got a chance to score. Javi Fuego’s cross found Jonas in the area. The Brasilian striker’s header brought out the best of Courtois. Petr Čech’s season-ending injury will require surgery. That has resulted in the rumour-mill going into overdrive that Chelsea will give Courtois the chance he has en looking for to compete for the starting position next season. Meanwhile, Courtois is popular and wanted by Atlético.
Feghouli’s shot from the edge of the area beat Courtois for once, but passed just wide of the post. With less than 5 minutes remaining Costa contrived to create a glorious chance for himself, but find a way to fail to capitalise. After rounding Guaita, Valencia’s keeper somehow managed to thwart Costa with his legs – Costa really should have scored.
Juanfran received a straight red card in injury time for a tackle from behind on Pablo Piatti near the half-way line. Within a minute the finals whistle was blown. Atlético’s lead at the top of La Liga over Real Madrid was six points even though Real have a game in hand. Barcelona beat Villarreal 3-2 at the Madrigal Stadium to trail Simeone’s team by four points with three matches remaining.