Atlético Madrid got their Champions League knock-out stage off to a flyer on Tuesday night, winning 4-2 away at Bayer Leverkusen with a vintage counter-attacking performance.
Goals from Saúl Ñíguez, Antoine Griezmann, a Kevin Gameiro penalty and Fernando Torres earned a hard fought victory in Germany, giving Cholo’s men a commanding lead ahead of the second leg.
The match started in quick fashion, with Leverkusen dominating possession and Atleti looking to hit on the counter, which set the tone for the rest of the match.
Antoine Griezmann had the first chance of the match, but was denied by Bernd Leno in the Leverkusen goal after Carrasco played him in. Filipe Luís’ cross was then turned onto his own crossbar by Wendell.
Atleti weren’t to be denied though, and after a bright start they took the lead through Saúl Ñíguez, the canterano curling home a spectacular effort following a powerful run forward early on.
It was a goal reminiscent of his wonderful individual effort against fellow German side Bayern Munich in the same competition last season, and almost as audacious.
Instead of sitting back, Atleti carried on attacking and exploiting space on the counter attack to great effect.
On 25 minutes, Griezmann made it 2-0 after great work from Gameiro, who held the ball up brilliantly before teeing up his compatriot to score.
It was no less than the visitors deserved, and they could’ve made it three in similar fashion shortly after when Gameiro played in Griezmann again, but this time the Frenchman was denied by Leno.
Bayer came out with more purpose in the second half and it paid dividends straight away, the dangerous Karim Bellarabi finishing from close range after Atleti failed to deal with a cross from the right.
However, they restored their two goal lead just past the hour mark and from a penalty no less. Gameiro was involved once again, drawing the foul and stepping up to smash the ball straight down the middle for 3-1.
It came with controversy as replays showed that the Atleti striker had been clearly fouled outside the box, but fans won’t have been complaining as their team finally converted from the spot after an incredible 6 misses in a row.
Gameiro had another good chance to score on the break but could only hit the crossbar from a tight angle, before being taken off much to his annoyance for Thomas Partey.
Bayer still came forward though and hit back again via a Stefan Savic own goal, although goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyà will shoulder most of the blame for a terrible attempted clearance that came off the defender and went in.
Just as it looked like the Bundesliga side would push for the equaliser though, Cholo’s men sentenced the match through substitute Fernando Torres, who headed in another counter attack goal from Sime Vrsaljko’s cross.
Despite the two goals conceded, Atleti will be more than happy with the four away goals and can play the second leg at the Calderón in the knowledge that Bayer will need to score 3 times to stand any chance of going through.
We’re seeing a different Atleti altogether at the moment, but with Jan Oblak and Diego Godín to come back and the attack finally looking thirsting, it may be time to start believing again.
Next up, we face Barcelona at the Calderón in a vital La Liga clash on Sunday afternoon.