It wasn’t pretty, but Atlético Madrid battled their way to an important 2-0 win away at Eibar on Saturday afternoon thanks to second half goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Antoine Griezmann.
After a forgettable first half, the red and whites dug deep after the break to take all three points, but were a little fortunate to take the lead as replays showed a clear offside on goalscorer Saúl.
All the talk pre-match was about Simeone’s team selection, with the Argentine opting to play Josema Giménez alongside Gabi in midfield, and giving starts to Sime Vrsaljko and Fernando Torres.
The Atleti boss knew he was in for a battle at Ipurúa, and that was exactly what he got in a first half that involved a lot of mistakes, heavy touches, long balls and very little actual football.
On a frosty pitch with temperatures as low as 3°C, it was Eibar who started the stronger, making life uncomfortable for the visitors and causing trouble with their direct wing play.
Very few chances were actually created in the first period, but there were some moments of controversy, particularly when the home side were not given a goal after Vrsaljko handled inside the box.
It was unintentional, but Eibar players and fans were incensed as the referee opted to wave play on. The Croatian was already on a yellow, although Adrián González had also been let off the hook after handling whilst on a yellow shortly before.
Just before half-time, Sergi Enrich had a great chance to open the scoring when the ball fell into his path inside the box, but his touch just deserted him at the vital moment.
Changes were needed for the away side, and Simeone chose to throw on Juanfran in place of Vrsaljko for the second half. The Croatian wasn’t having a great time of it, but one of Cholo‘s trusted warriors helped make a difference.
Atleti broke the deadlock against the run of play on 54 minutes, and from a short corner, Saúl Ñíguez got in front of his marker to nod Filipe Luís’ cross into the far corner.
It was a goal that came out of nowhere given the course of the match, and although they weren’t complaining, the rojiblancos will admit they got a little lucky as replays showed a clear offside.
Eibar responded immediately and stepped up their intensity level, forcing Atleti back towards their own penalty box as they pressed for an equaliser.
They had a number of good chances to get back on level terms, most notably when Pedro León somehow smashed the ball wide when free inside the box, but each time the visitors managed to scramble the ball away.
It was the Atleti of old, under the kosh but refusing to lie down, and putting their bodies on the line to preserve their lead. Fifteen minutes from the end, their resilience was rewarded.
With his team defending in numbers, Cholo brought on Kevin Gameiro for the closing stages with a view to hitting on the counter attack, and his decision came up trumps as the Frenchman combined with compatriot Antoine Griezmann for the second goal.
The two of them were causing problems with their speed, and after finding some space, Gameiro ran onto his strike parner’s pass ahead of the goalkeeper and squared for Griezmann to bundle home.
It was Grizi’s first league goal in 10 matches and 846 minutes of play, but one that came at a crucial time and was enough to help his team to an invaluable 2-0 win.
Eibar continued to push, and almost scored when Godín smashed a clearance off of Giménez on the line that could’ve resulted in an own goal, but were unable to break the Atleti door down.
The win takes us back up to fourth for the time being, and with Real Sociedad hosting Sevilla and Barcelona travelling to Villarreal later on this weekend, means we’ll make up ground at least two of the teams around us.
Next up is the second leg of our Copa del Rey clash with Las Palmas on Tuesday night, before a league clash with Real Betis next Saturday evening.
Player ratings: Moyá 6, Vrsaljko 5, Godín 7, Savic 7, Filipe 7, Gabi 8 (MOTM), Giménez 7, Koke 6, Saúl 7, Griezmann 7, Torres 6. Subs: Juanfran 6, Gameiro 7.