On Thursday night the spectators at the Vicente Calderón witnessed a historic night, as Atlético have taken a big step towards the final of the Europa League.
Domestic rivals Valencia were beaten in spectacular manner, but keep perspective because of two goals at the end of both halves: 4-2.
Atlético, without the suspended Diego Godín, started with the expected and strongest available line-up. The only minor surprise in Simeone’s starting eleven was the exclusion of Tiago, who took place on the bench.
Diego Ribas had a big opportunity to give Atlético a dream start after great work for Arda near the touchline, but Valencia ‘keeper Diego Alves did well to prevent an early setback for Los Che.
A few minutes later Arda again cut in dangerously from the right wing, where he featured a lot in the opening period, but this time failed to connect with Diego. The Rojiblancos continued their strong start with a shot by Falcao and almost took the lead through a great individual effort by Adrián, but our three attempts on target in the first ten minutes were all stopped by Alves.
In the 18th minute Atlético took a deserved lead. Again it was Arda Turan’s determination that allowed him to catch Adil Rami off guard and play the ball across goal. The entire Valencia defence were lacking the focus that Atleti showed early on and were beaten by Radamel Falcao who headed the ball into the back of the net from close range.
It was the fourth consecutive Europa League match in which the Colombian hit the target and his 9th goal in this year’s edition of the tournament.
Atlético completely dominated the game and over half an hour was gone when the visitors finally created their first opportunity. Valencia’s European topscorer Adil Rami headed just centimeters wide after coming forward for a corner.
At the other end Diego would have made it two had he worn size 12′s, but the playmaker came just an inch short of Arda’s inviting cross.
Shots from long range by Arda and Jonas before half time were off target. The teams seemed to be heading to the dressing room with a 1-0 score, but in the 48th minute of the first half Valencia equalized. Rami headed on a corner kick and Jonas walked it at the far post in to give the oranges the all important away goal.
The goal was controversial, as the referee had signalled for only one minute to be added. However, when the Brazilian struck the scoreboard had 47 minutes and 25 seconds on the clock.
After the break Atleti immediately hit back. While others might have considered Jonas’ goal a psychological blow, we actually straightened our backs, lift up our chins and reclaimed our lead just three minutes into the second half. A free kick by Diego was headed in, completely unchallenged, by Miranda to make it 2-1.
Atleti, who had showed attacking intent and defended far up the pitch, extended their lead just minutes later when Topal was pressured into giving away the ball in midfield. Adrián picked up the ball in Valencia’s half and left Víctor Ruiz behind, before slotting the ball past Alves and giving his team a two goal lead.
Including our qualifying games, this was already the 10th goal in the Europa League for Adrián, who’s already assisted his teammates on 6 occasions.
The Colchonero faithful could sniff Valencia’s scent of fear in the air as the home team continued to attack relentlessly, knowing that this was the time to deal the final blow. Arda Turan could have extended our lead to three after Alves spilled Adrián’s shot, but the goalie made up for his mistake by stopping the Turk’s rebound.
Alves again pulled off a fantastic save to keep Diego’s free kick from flying into the top corner.
The final blow would come, and it was dealt with a sledgehammer. Ten minutes from the end Radamel Falcao scored what will be considered one of the best goals in the tournament to make it 4-1. Controlling a long ball on his chest, Falcao marched forward from the midway line towards the Valencia goal. Just as he seemed to have been stopped, the Colombian turned to his left foot and unleashed a stunning strike from the edge of the area which went in through the crossbar to cap off a spectacular night for Atlético.
However, Atleti again lost concentration in the very last seconds of the half. In the 94th minute Valencia, who only ever threatened from corners, scored when Ricardo Costa headed in a goal that offers them perspective for the game next week in Mestalla.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Domínguez, Filipe; Diego (“88 Perea), Gabi, Mario, Arda (“82 Tiago); Adrián (“90 Salvio) and Falcao.
Goals: 1-0 Falcao (“18); 1-1 Jonas (“48); 2-1 Miranda (“49); 3-1 Adrián (“54); 4-1 Falcao (“78); 4-2 Ricardo Costa (“94)