Diego Simeone’s side have been in sensational form in La Liga this season. They are second in the table, behind Barcelona, on goal difference only and are currently five points ahead of their city rivals Real. Simeone put out a full strength team at the Mestalla stadium and many people, myself included, expected a facile victory against a Valencia team that has stuggled this season. The biggest surprise, however, is not that Valencia earned a draw to take into next week’s second leg but that they were the best team on the night and could have won the match.
Valencia have seen an improvement in performance and results under new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi and last night they were fired up from the first whistle. Their quick passing game had Atleti on the back foot but they never really threatened to beat Thibault Courtois. At the other end Atleti were restricted to rare break aways and their deadly striker Diego Costa had little opportunity to test Vicente Guaita in the Valencia goal.
The second half continued where the first had left off – Valencia were dominant in possession and territory but continued to be wasteful in front of goal. They were made to pay in the 68th minute after a moment of madness that Guaita will want to forget. The Valencia keeper flapped horribly at a regulation corner and punched the ball straight to Atleti danger man Raul Garcia who accepted his gift with aplomb.
It was one nil to Atleti and it looked like staying that way, despite more Valencia pressure, until deep into stoppage time. Sofiane Feghouli sent over a beautiful cross that was met by the head of Helder Postiga to clinch a dramatic late equaliser.
Valencia fans will be heartened by both the result and performance but unless they can find more of a threat in front of goal it seems unlikely that they can clinch a win at the Vicente Calderon next week.