Atlético beat Málaga 2-1 to keep their hopes of qualifying for next year’s Champions League alive.
In the pouring rain in Madrid the supporters saw a typical game of two halves. Before the break Málaga were on top and went ahead through a fantastic strike by Eliseu, but a second half turn-around saw Atleti take the crucial three points.
The match at the Vicente Calderón was more than a regular La Liga fixture. It was Atlético’s last home game of the season, and the first one played on a Saturday.
More importantly, it was the goodbye of our two longest serving players and first team captains, Luis Perea (314 appearances) and Antonio López (283 games and 13 goals), who received an emotional farewell from the Rojiblanco crowd before kick-off.
Realising the importance of this game in securing a European berth for next season, Diego Simeone opted not to rest any of his players for our upcoming Europa League final. Over in San Mamés, Athletic coach Bielsa did keep almost his entire starting XI on the bench.
Despite going out with our strongest line-up, it seemed the players already had their minds on the clash in Bucharest. Atleti misplaced too many passes and lost their individual match-ups in the first half, while Málaga did prove to be out for the three points.
The first opportunity of the match was a huge one and came after just a few minutes. Isco appeared all alone in front of Thibaut Courtois, but was unable to beat the Belgian as the goalkeeper made a save with his feet.
Málaga’s attacking intentions were clear from the very first minute and not much later Joaquín again tested Courtois with a strike from distance. Meanwhile Atleti had taken shots as well, but Falcao’s and Salvio’s attempts were off target.
The visitors seemed more focussed and they controlled the game through their creative players like Cazorla, Isco and Joaquín. The latter provided an excellent cross after half an hour of play, which was headed just over the crossbar by Rondón.
Some minutes later the Venezuelan striker should have opened the scoring, but he scuffed a perfect opportunity presented to him by the Atleti defence.
At the other end Radamel Falcao’s miss was just as, if not more, shocking. After a lightning quick counter the Colombian was gifted an easy goal, but our top scorer wasted the opportunity and placed Adrián’s cross wide instead of into the back of the net.
We were immediately made to pay for the miss, because moments later Eliseu scored with a strike that will surely be a contender for goal of the season. From 40 yards out the Portuguese winger hammered the ball into the top corner, leaving Courtois without a chance and giving Málaga a deserved lead.
Atlético improved visibly in the second half. The first opportunity after the break was for Adrián, who rounded the goalkeeper but was forced too far away from goal to score.
Our midfield general Diego was unable to dictate the game like we’re used to, but he did come within inches of equalising after an hour of play. His attempt took a minor deflection and whistled just past the post.
It was substitute Koke who scored the equaliser Atleti deserved after their improvement in the second half. The midfielder took advantage of Kameni’s poor clearance of a corner and scored an impressive volley from the edge of the box.
Seba Fernández immediately could have restored Málaga’s lead, but he was denied by Courtois.
Ten minutes later Adrián completed the turn-around and put Atleti ahead. The Asturian sped past his defenders after Falcao flicked on a long ball, and Adrián calmly finished with his left foot to make it 2-1.
It was Adrián’s 19th goal in all competitions, but only his first in league play since January. After scoring he and his teammates rushed to the bench, where they received and held up the t-shirts of their departing captains López and Perea.
The dedication was a great touch on what turned out to be a very good night for Atlético. With the victory we have overtaken Levante in the league table and we’ve moved within 2 points of Málaga, who play their final game at home against Sporting Gijón next week. Fortunately for Atleti, our fellow Rojiblancos are still fighting to avoid relegation and will put up a great struggle.
Atlético’s final league game of the season is on the road. We take on Villarreal, who have nothing left to play for, in a final attempt to qualify for next year’s Champions League.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Salvio (“91 Domínguez), Tiago, Mario (“57 Koke), Diego (“74 Arda); Adrián and Falcao.
Goals: 0-1 Eliseu (“38); 1-1 Koke (“69); 2-1 Adrián (“79)