A late Arutz Aduriz header grabbed a 1-1 draw for Valencia and ensured that Unai Emery’s side continue their unbeaten start to the La Liga campaign and confound the critics who have suggested that they would struggle in the absense of recently departed star players David Villa and David Silva.
Simao Sabrosa had given his side the lead in the first half but constant Valencia pressure finally paid off when Aduriz restored parity with seven minutes remaining. Despite the late equaliser it will probably be the more frusrated side this evening as their performance merited three points rather than one.
Valencia took control of the match from the first whistle and were looking particularly threatening down the right-hand side, with Miguel and Joaquin combining to good effect. And it was no surprise when the first chance of the match came via this avenue in the 9th minute. Miguel burst forward to support the attack and whipped over an excellent first-time cross, but Aritz Aduriz’s angled header floated over the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Atletico almost took the lead completely against the run of play when Diego Costa outstripped Hedwiges Maduro for pace and fired wide of Cesar Sanchez’s right-hand post.
This was a warning which the home side failed to heed, however, and Atletico Madrid shocked the Mestalla to its very core by opening the scoring with another lightning counter-attack in the 18th minute. A Joaquin corner broke to Diego Forlan deep inside his own half. There appeared to be little danger until the Uruguayan fired a visionary cross field pass out to Antonio Lopez, who cushioned the ball into Simao’s, and the Portuguese took a touch before slotting the ball past Cesar to score.
The home side immediately reassumed control of proceedings but lacked a cutting edge in the final third and failed to create anything of note as Los Rojiblancos soaked up the pressure, with Diego Godin in breath-taking form at the heart of the away side’s defence.
Atleti, rather astonishingly, came close to extending their lead in the 37th minute when a defensive mix up between Ricardo Costa and Cesar gifted Forlan an excellent chance, but an uncharacteristically poor touch saw the chance go begging.
In the 42nd minute, Juan Mata danced past a couple of challenges to create space for a shot as Valencia looked for a late equaliser, but he could only drag his shot wide of the right-hand post and with that went the last chance of an intriguing first half.
Valencia boss Unai Emery waited just ten second half minutes before introducing Roberto Soldado in place of the ineffectual Chori Dominguez, as he moved from his original 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2 in search of goals. And the introduction had the desired effect as €10 million (£8. million) signing Soldado got into threating positions on numerous occasions.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t reckoned with Atletico’s teenage goalkeeper sensation David de Gea, who continued where he left off in Sunday’s fixture with Barcelona with a stunning second half performance in which he denied Soldado with stunning saves on two separate occasions, tipping a 30-yard piledriver around the post after 72 minutes and then batting away a glancing header from a Tino Costa corner.
And just when it looked like a goal would never come, Aduriz out jumped Luis Perea to power home David Albelda’s inviting crossafter 83 minutes.
Valencia piled on the pressure for the remaining 10 minutes but could not find a way past Ateltico Madrid’s stubborn defence. In the end, they had to settle for a share of the spoils, but the performance suggests that they just might be real title contenders this season.
Tonight’s result sees Valencia fall to second in the table but remain joint top with Real Madrid on ten points, while Atletico stay fourth.
Valencia will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to the Asturias region to face Sporting Gijon in Saturday evening’s early kick-off, while Quique Sanchez Flores’ men have the opportunity to build on this result when they welcome Real Zaragoza to the Vicente Calderon on Sunday night.