MADRID – Atletico Madrid squandered the lead twice against visiting Valencia on Wednesday night before pulling out a 3-2 win thanks to a late goal by Angel Correa.
FC Barcelona could have clinched the LaLiga title if Atleti had lost their Matchday 34 of 38 contest at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, although the Catalans still can secure their eighth domestic championship of the past 11 seasons with a win on Saturday against Levante.
Valencia made errors on Wednesday night that proved costly, but the story of the match was Atletico’s expertise in capitalizing on those chances.
The home side jumped out to a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the contest on a well-constructed goal that came after Valencia midfielder Gonçalo Guedes had surrendered possession in his own area.
A half-dozen Atletico players then proceeded to touch the ball before it was sent over to the right side to Juanfran, who delivered an exquisite pass to a diving Alvaro Morato for a close-range score.
Valencia, however, got the equalizer on a goal that was every bit as well-crafted.
Francis Coquelin got the play started with a long-range pass to Carlos Soler on the right side.
Santi Mina then received the ball from Soler and made a remarkable individual play to maneuver around defender Diego Godin and then find Kevin Gameiro, who fired past Jan Oblak from just outside the goal box in the 35th minute.
Atletico Madrid, however, took the lead once again four minutes into the second half.
The play began when the home side gained possession in their own half of the field and then launched a rapid counter-attack that Antoine Griezmann finished off by heading home a cross from Thomas Lemar.
Defender Daniel Wass could have done more to inhibit the goal but did not catch sight of Lemar’s pass, or Griezmann’s move toward the ball, until it was too late.
Valencia, however, was far from finished and managed to equalize a second time in the 77th minute after Saul Ñiguez was called for a hand ball in the area and the video assistant referee (VAR) system confirmed the on-field decision.
Dani Parejo did the honors from the penalty spot to give Valencia hope of at least coming away with one point, but it was not to be.
Super-sub Correa, who had come on in the 61st minute for Filipe Luis, scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 81st minute when he curled a long-range shot around defender Mouctar Diakhaby and into the right side of the net past goalkeeper Neto.
Although the win likely just delays the inevitable, Correa spoke afterward about his team’s likely second-place finish in LaLiga ahead of Real Madrid.
“We know how difficult it is year after year to compete in this league against Barcelona and Real Madrid,” Correa said. “Our goal is to finish as high as possible and that’s what we try to do match by match. We have another very difficult game on Saturday (against Valladolid) that we also hope to win.”