Atlético Madrid struggled against Levante but secured a 3-2 victory in the 13th round of la Liga.
The first half was a dull affair, but five goals in the second half made for a spectacular night in the Vicente Calderón.
Gregorio Manzano opted for Eduardo Salvio to replace the injured Falcao, while Miranda came in for Diego Godín.
The coach was forced to make a late substitution after illness ruled Gabi out for the match. His place in midfield was taken by Tiago.
Atlético put Levante under a lot of pressure and pinned their opponents back on their own half in the opening fifteen minutes of the game, but besides a volley by Tiago this lead to few chances.
The team played very narrow with only the fullbacks providing width, while forwards Adrián and Salvio also dropped wide to receive the ball. This left the Rojiblancos without a presence in the box and Levante held on comfortably.
Our defenders conceded too many unnecessary fouls around the box. One almost led to a goal, but Barkero’s free kick went just off target.
Atlético’s only attempts on goal came from outside the box. Arda and Tiago tried their luck but found goalkeeper Munúa on their way.
In the 40th minute our most energetic player Adrián seemed to win a penalty, but referee Pérez Montero inexplicably ignored Farinos’ rash challenge inside the box.
Adrián won the ball from Ballesteros and beat two players before skipping past Farinos, who lunged in with his legs forward. The ref’s decision not to award the stonewall penalty was incomprehensible and instead of pointing to the spot Pérez Montero made matters even worse by booking Adrián for protesting.
At the start of the second half Thibaut Courtois was called to action on two occasions and the Belgian came through both times. First he saved Xavi Torres’ shot, before diving to the feet of Valdo to stop the winger from scoring.
Pizzi replaced the injured Tiago at half time and the young winger came close to scoring after Munúa spilled an attempt by Diego, but his shot went over the crossbar.
There were more worries for Manzano, as Sílvio had to be stretchered off with a seemingly serious injury. The coach brought on Luis Perea and with the earlier introduction of Pizzi the team changed to a 4-3-3 formation.
Shortly after the substitutions, Atlético missed unbelievable opportunities. Diego put Adrián through on goal but the striker found Munúa on his way. The rebound then fell to Salvio who had an open goal in front of him, but Toto hit the sidenetting.
Moments later the crowd again held their faces in disbelief, when Atleti again managed not to score. Arda Turan pulled the ball back and delivered an unmissable opportunity to Diego, but the Brazilian’s shot was saved off the goalline.
Headers that followed by Domínguez and Salvio went wide.
With the pressure piling on Levante, the Valencian side finally broke down. Atleti launched a quick counterattack and fresh substitute José Antonio Reyes enabled Pizzi to score. The Portuguese winger controlled the ball and scored through the legs of Munúa.
But the happiness was short-lived, because within minutes Levante pulled one back. Atlético were caught completely off-guard and Barkero was allowed to cross from the backline. He found Xavi Torres, who was left unmarked inside the box, and Torres slotted the ball into the back of the net.
But the spectacle in the Calderón wasn’t quite over yet, because Adrián instantly gave Atlético a new lead. He finished off a great move by Arda Turan by heading in the Turk’s cross.
The visitors crawled out of their shell and realised they had nothing to lose. A shot by Barkero was blocked by Miranda and Farinos’ attempt went just wide. Atleti escaped when Rubén’s deflected free kick whistled over the crossbar.
There was a sigh of relief when Diego decided the match shortly before the end. After a quick break a loose ball fell before the feet of the Brazilian and he beat Munúa from close range to make it 3-1.
Atlético almost scored an absolutely fantastic goal in the dying seconds with Diego’s Brazilian flair setting up Filipe for a cross. The left back put the ball on a platter for Adrián, but Munúa pulled off a worldclass save to deny the striker and then caught Reyes’ bicycle kick.
After the added time of two minutes had already passed, Atlético’s defence once more proved to be vulnerable and Rubén was allowed to score.
Although far from a convincing performance, the victory over Levante might just be the moral boost Atlético needs ahead of next week’s clash with arch rivals Real Madrid.
Line-up: Courtois; Sílvio (“58 Perea), Miranda, Domínguez, Filipe; Mario, Tiago (“46 Pizzi), Arda, Diego; Salvio (“65 Reyes) and Adrián.
Goals: 1-0 Pizzi (“68); 1-1 Xavi Torres (“72); 2-1 Adrián (“74); 3-1 Diego (“84); 3-2 Rubén (“93)