Atletico Madrid leave it late to defeat Villarreal with Saul strike

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Atletico Madrid leave it late to defeat Villarreal with Saul strike
Memphis Depay and Dani Parejo battle for the ball
Memphis Depay and Dani Parejo battle for the ball
AFP
A trip to Estadi de la Ceramica proved the perfect tonic for Atletico Madrid to snap a two-game La Liga losing streak, as they won 2-1 against Villarreal to stay unbeaten there since 2018, and end the hosts’ nine-match unbeaten run in the process.

Diego Simeone’s decision to welcome Antoine Griezmann back into the Atletico starting line-up came close to justification in only the seventh minute. Insightful as ever, the Frenchman threaded an expert through-ball between the Villarreal defence for Samuel Lino, but Filip Jorgensen made a strong save with his foot to keep Lino’s effort out.

Yet, the goalkeeper was helpless to prevent the visitors from taking the lead two minutes later. A Rodrigo Riquelme corner was met by Axel Witsel at the near post, who flicked the ball across with his head inside the unguarded far post to score his second of the league season.

A busy opening quarter to the match continued for Jorgensen, as he was forced to keep out strikes from Memphis Depay and Marcos Llorente, before a rare foray into the Atleti box resulted in Villarreal claiming a penalty.

Yerson Mosquera went down under the challenge of Jose Maria Gimenez, but referee Mario Melero Lopez waved away their demands. Villarreal then came close to an undeserved equaliser shortly before the break, as Gerard Moreno blazed his effort over following a corner.

Having failed to get a shot on target in the first half, it took Villarreal just five minutes to register one after the break - a significant one at that. Francis Coquelin firstly robbed Griezmann of possession, and then a combination of Etienne Capoue and Moreno set up Alexander Sorloth at the edge of the area, allowing him to drill a low shot into the bottom corner to score his fifth in five league matches.

The equaliser saw Marcelino’s men grow in confidence, with Capoue and Mosquera testing Jan Oblak. That said, the presence of substitute and top scorer Alvaro Morata meant Los Colchoneros still looked dangerous going forward.

And in the final 10 minutes, Morata almost produced a carbon copy of Witsel’s goal, but his flicked header bounced off the crossbar and out.

Instead, the visitors’ winner would go to Saul Niguez three minutes from time, when Villarreal allowed Atletico to play the ball across the edge of their box unchallenged. Cesar Azpilicueta laid it off to Saul, who rolled his first strike of 2023/24 beyond Jorgensen’s reach. 

Despite losing late on, Villarreal have still picked up 19 points from their last 10 games, after polling the same number from their first 20 outings. Meanwhile, Atleti remain unbeaten at la Ceramica since 2018 on winning note, with the three points taking them above Athletic Bilbao into the top-four.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid)

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