After five consecutive defeats, Atlético desperately needed a victory and the players duly delivered with a deserved 1-0 win in Aragón, surviving a couple of late scares to hold on to all three points.
Zaragoza is an opponent with many friendly faces, led by former Atleti coach Javier Aguirre. The Mexican coach started with former rojiblancos Leo Franco, Gabi, Braulio and Sinama-Pongolle in his line-up, while Quique Sánchez Flores sprang a surprise by handing Koke his first start of the season.
Atlético dominated the first half but were unable to convert the many chances they created. We could have taken an early lead, but Reyes’ shot was deflected wide and Raúl García was unable to score from the following corner.
After four minutes Diego Forlán put Sergio Agüero through with a magnificent pass, but Leo Franco got his body behind the ball and stopped his fellow Argentinian.
After a quick break from Atlético, Agüero found himself racing towards goal with two opponents ahead of him, but our number 10 still managed to get a shot off from just outside the area. Again he was stopped by the goalkeeper who managed to push it wide for a corner.
After the first twenty minutes, Atleti slowed down their game, although we should have been awarded a penalty when Reyes was brought down inside the area. His heels were clipped by the last defender but the referee saw nothing in it.
Zaragoza captain Gabi took matters into his own hands, as he first cleared a Tiago header off his own goal line and then almost opened the scoring, but his shot skimmed just over the crossbar.
Atleti were wasteful with their chances, especially towards the end of the first half, when Forlán hit his volley way over Zaragoza’s goal after a lovely through ball from Tiago. Just before the break Agüero missed another huge opportunity to get his first goal since the opening week of January. He set up a one-two with Koke who delivered the ball back to the Argentine, but Kun was stopped by Leo Franco and two of his defenders after he tried to skip past the goalkeeper.
Zaragoza started the second half strongly with the introduction of Bertolo on the left wing. Braulio had the home team’s best opportunity, but his low shot towards the near corner was saved by De Gea.
At the other end Reyes came within inches of scoring, but he curled his shot just wide after Agüero had found him inside the box.
Although Atleti weren’t as threatening in the second half, they did take the lead after an hour’s play.
First Atlético escaped from a scramble inside their own box which very well could have ended up in the back of De Gea’s net, before quickly launching a counter attack which ended up in the net. Through Koke and Forlán the ball was delivered to Sergio Agüero, who sped past Ponzio and beat Leo Franco with a powerful shot in the far corner to end his goalless streak. Agüero dedicated his goal to son Benjamín, who celebrates his second birthday today.
Within a minute Kun could have doubled the score, but he overcomplicated things as he again found himself inside the Zaragoza box.
Zaragoza had taken ten points from their last four games at La Romareda but tonight they were never able to push Atlético back. However, in the dying seconds of the game the home team almost earned an undeserved point. Ikechukwu Uche, who returned after an injury which had kept him out for almost a year, cut inside and hit the crossbar from inside the area.
Atlético escaped again not a minute later, when Bertolo reached inside the box from the same area and again hit the crossbar with another powerful shot which would have left De Gea without a chance.
There’s no denying that Atlético were fortunate with Zaragoza’s late minute opportunities, but Quique’s side will take a hardly fought and well deserved three points back to Madrid.
Line-up: De Gea; Ujfalusi, Perea, Domínguez, López; Reyes, Tiago, Raúl García, Koke (“84 Elias); Forlán (“92 Assunção) and Agüero (“86 Diego Costa).
Goals: 0-1 Agüero (“66)