Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid: 6 Things We Learned
On paper, Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid looked like a match that could have a large bearing on the Primera Division title race. It was the second-hardest fixture of Atletico’s run-in, at a stadium where they were last victorious back in 2003, as per Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish).
Atletico proved equal to the test, putting in a strong defensive performance to win, 1-0, thanks to Raul Garcia’s late first-half goal.
Valencia struggled to create any chances of particular note despite putting their visitors under pressure for much of the second half, eventually succumbing to a second defeat in three days following Thursday’s Europa League loss to Sevilla.
Here are six things we learned from Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid.
Raul Garcia Continues to Torment Valencia
Raul Garcia has played a key part in Atletico’s success this season, providing a strong goal threat from a central attacking midfield or nominal wide role and causing problems for opposition defences with his aerial proficiency and intelligent positioning.
He was the difference between the sides on Sunday, darting in off the right flank to meet Gabi’s in-swinging cross and aim a lovely flicked header over the advancing Valencia goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, just before half-time.
It was his fourth goal against Valencia this season, following strikes in the 3-0 league victory at the Vicente Calderon and in both legs of Atletico’s 3-1 aggregate victory over Valencia in the Copa del Rey round of 16.
Valencia will be glad to have seen the last of him for the season.
Atletico Defend Impeccably Once Again
Atletico again showed themselves to have the best defence in Spain, perhaps in Europe, by securing, as per Soccerway, their 20th clean sheet of the league season.
Centre-backs Diego Godin and Miranda were strong, solid and alert to danger, while behind them, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was authoritative in claiming high balls into the area. As a team, Atletico were disciplined and diligent, controlling space and making it difficult for Valencia to penetrate them.
Valencia attempted 11 shots, but per FourFourTwo, only two of them were on target, and only one of those was from inside the area.
The goalscoring heroics of Diego Costa may have attracted most of the headlines, but it is Atletico’s defensive durability that has been the driving force behind their challenge for the Primera Division title.
Atletico Set New Points Record
The victory took Atletico onto 88 points for the season, which is, as per Marca, the highest tally in the club’s 111-year history.
The previous record was set during the double-winning season of 1995-96, with Diego Simeone on the pitch and Radomir Antic in the dugout.
This year’s team are also now just one goal away from bettering that side’s 75-goal haul.
Ricardo Costa Wins the Battle of the Costas
Veteran defender Ricardo Costa made his first league start since mid-February and was given the unenviable task of keeping tabs on his prolific namesake, Diego Costa.
It was a task many have failed in a season that the Atletico striker has notched 27 goals in 33 league appearances, but the Valencia defender matched him physically while staying calm under pressure to make a number of good clearances.
He even survived the referee, Alberto Undiano, inadvertently stepping on his foot during the first half.
Diego Costa did break free on two occasions, but he was foiled both times by excellent saves from Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
Chelsea defenders Gary Cahill and John Terry will hope to deal with Diego Costa with similar efficiency on Wednesday, in the second leg of Atletico and Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final.
David Villa Again Struggles Against His Former Employers
David Villa came back into the Atletico starting lineup for the trip to the Mestalla, a stadium at which, as per Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish), he scored 75 of the 126 goals he notched during his five-year spell at Valencia.
He has, however, failed to score against his former employers since moving to Barcelona in 2010. He again failed to trouble the scoresheet on Sunday, whistling one shot just wide in the first half but thereafter struggling to make much of an impact.
He was substituted to a standing ovation from the home supporters, with whom he remains popular, in the 59th minute, moments after receiving a blow to his knee.
After a low-key performance, he is unlikely to start against Chelsea on Wednesday, with either Arda Turan or Diego Ribas likely to take his place in the first XI.
European Football Now Unlikely for Valencia
Valencia have enjoyed an excellent run in the Europa League this season, but they will have to produce a stunning turnaround in the second leg of their semi-final against Sevilla on Thursday if they are to maintain hope of qualifying for the same competition next season.
Sunday’s defeat means that they trail seventh-place Villarreal by seven points with just three matches left to play.
The last season in which Valencia failed to compete in European competition was, as per Wikipedia, 2005-06, when they were eliminated by Hamburg in the Intertoto Cup qualifying tournament.
Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has done a solid job since taking over in December, but he will know that he has to lead Valencia to a better league finish next season if he hopes to forge a long-term future for himself at the club.