Atletico Madrid restored their seven-point advantage at the top of LaLiga with a seventh straight victory as Joao Felix led their latest fightback in the 3-1 success against Valencia.
Diego Simeone’s side had overturned an early deficit to beat Eibar three days earlier and were at it again at the Wanda Metropolitano, this time inspired by Joao Felix.
After a superb long-range Uros Racic opener stunned Atleti, their record signing scored his first LaLiga goal since November 7 to level matters and later laid on the second for Luis Suarez, Thursday’s two-goal hero.
Substitute Angel Correa – on for Joao Felix – made sure of another win, which represented a vital response to Real Madrid’s own triumph on Saturday, maintaining a healthy gap while the Rojiblancos still have a game in hand.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 24, 2021
A lively, open start perhaps out of keeping with a typical Atletico match saw early chances at both ends, with Jaume Domenech denying Jose Gimenez and Jan Oblak blocking from Manu Vallejo before the spectacular 11th-minute breakthrough.
The Atleti goalkeeper was this time helpless at full stretch as Racic sensationally picked out the top-right corner with a swirling left-footed strike from 25 yards.
But the hosts were level midway through the first half when Joao Felix beat Thierry Correia to a deep corner and prodded beyond Domenech as Valencia’s appeals for a foul somewhere in a busy penalty area fell on deaf ears.
And Valencia were fortunate not to concede a penalty shortly before half-time as Thomas Lemar stole in ahead of a dozing Maxi Gomez to reach a bouncing ball inside the box, only to see the foul given the other way.
Atleti continued to turn the screw and had their reward eight minutes after the restart, with Gabriel Paulista inexplicably standing off Suarez as he took Joao Felix’s pass and calmly finished into the bottom-right corner from the left side of the area.
The result never seemed in serious jeopardy thereafter and Marcos Llorente cut a low ball back for Correa to sweep in 18 minutes from time to seal the points.
What does it mean? – Tough week has leaders looking like champions
Atletico had not claimed a point from a losing position all season until this week, having only previously trailed in the 2-0 defeat at rivals Madrid.
But a tricky double-header tested Simeone’s side, who conceded after 12 minutes at Eibar and even earlier on this occasion. A spirited response went a long way to proving their title credentials.
Star forward back on track
In inspired form during the early weeks of the season, Joao Felix had subsequently supplied just one goal and one assist in all competitions since the November international break ahead of this game. Four prior January appearances included only four attempts and a single chance created.
But the Atleti number seven was much improved on Sunday. The opening shot of the match after 55 seconds set the tone, with Joao Felix deserving his equaliser – one of three efforts – even if his pass for Suarez – among two key passes – left his strike partner still with plenty to do.
Defending from a distance
Gabriel only misplaced four passes, although two of those could easily have proven costly, gifting the ball first to Yannick Carrasco and then to Joao Felix in dangerous areas.
However, it was the centre-back’s work out of possession that was most damaging. Suarez faced a tight angle from Joao Felix’s pass but was granted time and space by Gabriel to steady himself and pick his spot free of pressure.
Key Opta facts
– Despite having conceded in back-to-back games for the second time this season, no team has let in fewer goals than Atletico Madrid this season in the top five European leagues (8), three less than the next in the ranking (Paris Saint-Germain , 11).
– Valencia are the team that Simeone has faced most often as Atletico coach without losing at home in LaLiga (GP10, W6 D4).
– Suarez has scored 12 goals in his first 15 games for Atletico in LaLiga, the best scoring start by a new signing in Spain’s top tier since Cristiano Ronaldo netted 13 in his first 15 games for Real Madrid in 2009-2010.
– Joao Felix has been involved in 13 goals in 24 games this season for Atletico in all competitions (9 goals, 4 assists), more than in the whole last season (9 goals and 3 assists in 36 games).
Atleti visit Cadiz on Sunday, their early Copa del Rey exit meaning they are not in action on Wednesday when Valencia travel to Sevilla.