Atlético Madrid 1 Deportivo 0: Match Review
Atlético Madrid went within two points of rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, as they beat a resolute Deportivo La Coruña 1-0. Diego Simeone could’ve been forgiven for having one eye on his side’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, but he opted to play a strong side. Augusto, Nicolás Gaitán and José Giménez were brought into the starting XI following Los Rojiblancos’ excellent 1-1 draw in the Nou Camp earlier in the week, but otherwise the team was unchanged.
Depor, without a win since the opening day of the season, lost at home to Leganés in midweek and were 15th in the table at the start of the game. They had yet to concede a goal away from home, though, so the result was not a foregone conclusion.
Atlético Madrid 1 Deportivo 0: Match Review
Atleti have been a more attacking outlet this season, but they struggled to break Deportivo down in the early minutes. Los Branquiazuis were very well-organised at the back, keeping plenty of men behind the ball at all times when not in possession and giving the Atlético midfielders little space to create chances. They were able to keep the tempo of the game down and stifle the opposition attackers.
Just after 20 minutes, after Augusto had been stretchered off and replaced by Gabi, Atleti had their first real chance of the match. Yannick Carrasco played a brilliant ball through to Antoine Griezmann, who dragged his shot wide. The Frenchman really should have opened the scoring with that chance. A few minutes later, Gabi played in Gaitán, whose lobbed shot was cleared off the line by Laure.
The introduction of Gabi helped Atleti to up the tempo a bit, much to Simeone’s delight. The Argentine spent much of the first-half gesticulating wildly—as ever—but a lot of the time he was trying to tell his players to speed things up. Deportivo were able to take the sting out of their play towards the end of the first 45 minutes, though, and the teams went into the break level.
However, seconds before half-time Fayçal Fajr needlessly shoved Gaitán to earn himself a second yellow card and an early bath. His moment of stupidity made his team’s challenge a lot more difficult.
In the second half, Atleti continued to dominate proceedings. The extra man advantage began to tell as they found themselves in much more space and started to create much more convincing chances. Carrasco hit the woodwork on 53 minutes and forced a brilliant double save out of Germán Lux five minutes later, following which Filipe Luís dragged his shot wide.
An Atlético goal was starting to look like an inevitability and, eventually, the home side got the breakthrough. In the 70th minute, a clever pass towards the byline from Juanfran through to Kévin Gameiro allowed the Frenchman to provide his compatriot Griezmann with an easy finish. The 25-year-old’s tap-in was his fifth goal of the season and probably his most important.
After the goal, Atlético chose not to go for the kill, slowing the game down and perhaps conserving their energy for their big game in Europe in the week. They kept control of the ball very well and only allowed Deportivo a couple of half-chances. But in injury time, a poorly-cleared cross went out to Emre Çolak, who thundered a shot from 18 yards towards the goal. His shot seemed to have the better of ‘keeper Jan Oblak, but ever-reliable Diego Godín headed the shot away to keep the score at 1-0.
Simeone’s side will perhaps attract criticism from those who try to accuse them of playing “bad” football, but in truth they played some attractive, attacking football until the last phase of the game. At times, they rushed their attacks instead of patiently building opportunities, but they thoroughly deserved to pick up the three points.
The team’s positioning remains one of its strongest assets. Very often, many players pushed forward in search of a goal—Godín found himself in a centre-forward’s position in a couple of the attacks towards the end of the first-half—but they always kept enough men back to stave off any counter-attacks. All of the players knew where each other was at any given time, which makes a huge difference both defensively and in terms of building attacks.
The match against Bayern Munich will be a huge challenge, but should they replicate their performance against Barcelona a few days ago and play with the same attacking intensity that they did today after Gabi came on, they should be more than capable of getting a positive result.
Deportivo will have every right to be happy with their performance today, despite the result. Had Fajr not stupidly got himself sent off, they could easily have got themselves a point. Their resolute defending made life very difficult even for Atleti’s best attacking players, and they looked threatening, if not unstoppable, whenever they went forward.
Their next match is at home to Sporting next Saturday. They have struggled to play in front of their own fans thus far this season, beating Eibar on the opening day but losing both their games since. Moreover, they are yet to keep a clean sheet at home this season, so a defensive performance similar to today’s will not go amiss.