There are 1-1 matches that are dull affairs. This was not one of them.
Villarreal and Atletico Madrid are so much fun to watch against each other. Cholo Simeone’s side is always going to battle for every ball, and Villarreal is the same way. Neither backs off, both are looking for every chink in the other’s armor.
The first half of this match definitely followed this pattern. For almost 40 minutes, there were hardly any goal chances, as the midfields basically cancelled each other out. It was clear that if a goal were to come from Villarreal, it would probably be started from a through ball by Manu Trigueros—while Atleti’s Correa and Griezmann were the only two players on their side able to find room to maneuver.
Carlos Bacca had a low angled shot early on that was saved, Griezmann a header wide, but for the first 38 minutes that was pretty much it. Then suddenly all hell broke loose in the remaining seven minutes of the half. First Bakambu had two chances—the first set up by a fine, legal shoulder charge from Bacca to win a ball, and a Trigueros his cross to Bakambu ended up going off his thigh rather than his foot. Then Trigueros sent Bakambu through on a one-on-one but the Congolese international surprisingly dithered and a defender was able to get back to clear the danger.
Now it was Atleti’s turn. A move down the Villarreal left resulted in a Juanfran cross for Griezmann, Barbosa parrying away a shot from a tight angle, the rebound came to Gamiero, I think, and Ruiz cleared his shot off the line. Then from a corner, Godin’s header was beautifully parried away by Barbosa, and from the resulting corner, Thomas Partey shot wide from the top of the box with no one around him.
Good signs for Villarreal were that Bacca seemed to be far more in sync with the rest of the attack; bad signs were that Fornals was almost invisible. Roberto Soriano was effective enough defensively, but apart from getting in the way of a couple of Mario Gaspar chances, didn’t do much.
HT Atleti 0-0 Villarreal
More tight probing from both sides in the first 15 minutes of the second half, while the crowd at the Wanda Metropolitan created quite an atmosphere. (I hate to lose the ‘downtown’ Calderon, but wow, even on TV, the beauty of this new stadium is something to behold).
Atleti keeper Oblak made a fine sprawling save on a Rodrigo shot destined for his far post, which was the sign for more craziness—Bacca set up Fornals for a shot which Partey blocked, Atleti countered and eventually won a dangerous free kick, which Atleti played to a possibly offside Correa and Ruiz blocked his shot away.
It just seemed as though someone had to score eventually. And when the goal came, just after the hour mark, it sort of came from nothing—a Filipe Luis cross to Griezmann outside the box, his quick volley found Correa sprinting past Jaume Costa—and he beat Barbosa at the near post.
Near-post goals are never great to give up, and what also hurt was that we had just brought on Castillejo for Roberto Soriano, and Casti didn’t close down the Luis cross as Soriano might have done. But, that said, it was a fine play and a nice finish from Atleti, and gave them what was, on the whole, a deserved lead.
Villarreal now needed to chase the game, but were still having trouble getting the ball through the clogged midfield. Atleti could have stolen a second after Saul put Gamiero through, but Barbosa was able to save his quick shot. Our defense was a bit all over the place, though.
Jaume Costa went off for Rukavina after landing awkwardly on his shoulder; Villarreal pushed forward, but Atleti kept blocking our attempts at goal—very annoying. But the Submarine kept pressing, and Casti, Rodri, Trigueros and Fornals were all doing their best to pull the Atleti defense out of place.
Mario Gaspar’s screamer on the 73rd minute, parried by Oblak, was evidence the Submarine weren’t giving up. Cheryshev came on for Fornals just after, an attempt to bring fresh legs and a bit more pace into the attack. Atleti weren’t exactly hanging on, but they were far from feeling comfortable.
Castillejo’s pass for Bacca, though nicely defended by Savic, resulted in a corner, and from a corner created from that corner—I hope you are sitting down as you read this, because it has so rarely happened—Carlos Bacca scored with a powerful header, getting to the Casti ball just before Diego Godin.
Nine minutes left plus stoppage time, and apart from a yellow card to Alvaro which keeps him out of the Malaga match (Trigueros got his fifth yellow of the season in the first half and will miss it too) not a great deal happened. It seemed odd to me that Cholo only used one sub (the ineffective Vietto for the slightly less ineffective Gamiero).
FT Atleti 1-1 Villarreal
On balance, Villarreal should feel satisfied with a point. It was a fairly even match; Atleti slightly better, but not by a lot, both keepers had to make one difficult save and Villarreal also had to clear a shot off the line.
Best players: Bacca, Ruiz, Trigueros.