Valencia and Atletico Madrid played out a thrilling 1-1 draw at Mestalla on Monday night, with Rodrigo Moreno cancelling out Angel Correa’s opener to deliver a fair result on the night.
The contest more than lived up to expectations as two high-powered teams pushed hard for victory in the latter stages, and here we look at three key talking points to emerge from the action.
Heavyweights on the ropes
This was a breathless game between two excellent sides played in front of a pulsating atmosphere with the energy-sapping August heat contributing to a ding-dong battle which, by the end, resembled a heavyweight boxing bout with both fighters reeling on the ropes but refusing to go down.
Both teams had their chances to win it, with Atletico excelling in the opening period and regularly threatening to add to the lead provided by Angel Correa’s well-taken strike from a beautiful pass by Antoine Griezmann.
Valencia rallied after the break and were good value for their leveller through Rodrigo Moreno, fashioning the best late opportunities for a winner as Daniel Wass and substitute Kevin Gameiro – playing against his former team – given the chance to shoot from the edge of the box.
By that stage, the pace of the game had drastically slowed as the heat took its toll, but strangely none of the substitutes – who should have been physically far fresher than everyone else – were able to make much impact, perhaps struggling to adjust to the intensity of the action when they entered the fray.
Ultimately both teams can be happy with the outcome. Not many teams will beat Atletico this season, and not many visitors will triumph at Mestalla. And on the evidence of this game, both look set for exciting seasons.
Atletico unveil an added dimension
Over the past few years we have become more than accustomed to seeing Diego Simeone’s Atletico grind out their successes with dogged and disciplined defensive displays, earning them a reputation as a brilliantly efficient but less than exciting team to watch.
But they have started the new season with a new dimension to their play, with last week’s Super Cup win over neighbouring Real and this thriller at Valencia containing some fabulously pacey and purposeful passing play.
The best example came after 32 minutes, when Jan Oblak threw out the ball to Filipe Luis, who combined with Thomas Lemar before passing back into defence. An immediate long pass to Griezmann allowed the French striker to swiftly swap passes with Correa before advancing down the right and sliding a low ball into Diego Costa, who stepped past a challenge before unleashing a fierce strike which demanded an excellent save from home keeper Neto.
It was a thrillingly precise and incisive move, the likes of which are regularly seen from Pep Guardiola’s teams but never normally associated with Simeone. Right now, though, Atletico aren’t only a mean defensive machine: they’re also oozing attacking menace. If they can maintain that, this could be Simeone’s best side yet.
Rodrigo in the shop window?
The main unfinished business in this month’s transfer window is the question of whether Real Madrid will add another striker to their squad rather than committing themselves to an entire season with just Karim Benzema in the forward role.
If they do decide to add greater depths, one of the chief candidates – along with Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi – is Valencia frontman Rodrigo, who was previously brought into the international fold by now-Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui and has repeatedly been linked with a move to the Bernabeu in the last few weeks.
Rodrigo’s performance in this intense encounter will have done nothing but enhanced his value, with the Brazilian-born frontman working ferociously hard – often feeding on scraps of service against an excellent defence – and showing his sky-high confidence with a pair of fierce first-half strikes which flew just off target.
His crowning moment came with a superbly taken equaliser, controlling a difficult ball with his chest before swivelling to smash an unstoppable left-footed strike high into the roof of the net. It was a goal to make anyone stand up and take notice – and perhaps especially Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid failed to get their La Liga title bid off to a winning start as Rodrigo earned Valencia a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla Stadium on Monday.
Angel Correa gave Diego Simeone’s visitors a 26th-minute lead, but Rodrigo struck in the second half for the home team and last season’s runners-up Atletico failed to find a winner.
Here, we rate both sides.
Neto 7: Did very well to repel a low strike from Costa and had few other saves to make, but dealt well with whatever came his way.
Piccini 6: Did a decent defensive job against Lemar but couldn’t get forward much and lost concentration to play Correa onside for the opener.
Garay 6: Slightly lucky to stay on the pitch after committing a professional foul on Costa, but soon had to leave through injury.
Gabriel 7: Occasionally struggled with Costa’s pace and power but made a few timely interventions, including a key late goalmouth clearance.
Gaya 6: Found himself in trouble with Correa’s sharp movement early on, but improved as the game progressed and kept going to the end.
Soler 5: The least effective of the midfielders on show, with little involvement. Had one chance to shoot but dragged it well wide. Substituted.
Kondogbia 7: Did a good job defensively by breaking up several attacks, despite often finding himself outnumbered in the first half as Atletico swept forward.
Parejo 6: Couldn’t get on the ball or influence the game too much, but worked so hard defensively he collapsed with cramp near the end.
Wass 6: Had the first shot of the game but fired over. Teed up Rodrigo for the equaliser and nearly won it with a late low strike.
Mina 5: Anonymous in the centre forward position, unable to either link play or provide a presence inside the penalty area. Substituted for Gameiro.
Rodrigo 8: Always Valencia’s biggest threat, crashing one fierce strike over the bar and sending another just wide before thumping home the leveller.
Gameiro 6: Came on for his Valencia debut against his former club and could have won it at the death, but his shot lacked power.
Diakhaby 6: Not particularly convincing after replacing Garay, but just managed to get himself in the right place. Poor use of the ball.
Batshuayi 6: Another debutant from the bench, the on-loan Chelsea man worked hard and caused some problems for Atletico but lacked finesse.
ATLETICO MADRID 4-4-2
Oblak 7: Commanding whenever he was called upon, including two late saves to deny Wass – a very good stop – and former teammate Gameiro.
Juanfran 7: Methodical and progressive down the right wing, combining with Correa before the Atletico goalscorer tired in the second half.
Savic 7: Untroubled at the back and comfortably had the measure of Mina. Sent a decent headed chance wide from a corner.
Godin 6: A generally strong display of old-school defending but blotted his copybook by getting drawn out of position for the equaliser.
Luis 7: Prominent in the early stages and continued to offer constructive attacking play in what could have been his last Atletico appearance.
Correa 7: Full of confidence from the opening whistle, and netted the opener with calm assurance. Faded after the break and was replaced.
Koke 7: An understated but always available presence in the middle of the pitch, sending some dangerous balls into the box.
Saul 8: Oozed class in the centre of midfield, directing play with composed passing. Rifled a late free-kick over the top from 25 yards.
Lemar 5: Quiet on his league debut, defending well and making the occasional threatening burst but lacking penetration. Replaced after the break.
Griezmann 6: Linked play well, especially with a brilliant disguised reverse pass to Correa for the opener, but still short of fitness and was substituted.
Costa 7: Terrorised Valencia in the first half, snatching at early chance and forcing a great save with a fierce drive. Less effective towards the end.
Vitolo 6: Sent on for Lemar down the left and contributed well, producing some powerful dribbles but couldn’t quite combine with Costa.
Martins 5: Another league debutant, the Portuguese winger showed some skill with his slick ball work but had no end product.
Partey 5: Off the pace after entering the fray, struggling to find the same wavelength as his teammates and offering little.
Bale’s cross was headed in by Dani Carvajal for Real’s opening goal in their first match of the new campaign in La Liga, and he later scored his side’s second at the Bernabeu.
“I was pleased with the team in general and Gareth put in a great performance,” said Lopetegui.
“Bale offers us solutions. He played well, like many of his teammates.”
Lopetegui added: “In the structure that we are trying to create, there are players with different characteristics and Gareth has his own.
“He gives us something different and we need to take advantage of that. We are delighted with how it’s going.”
Real’s next outing is away at Girona next Sunday evening.