Atleti dominated throughout yet struggled to create opportunities in the second half after Jaume Domenech had stood tall in the Valencia goal prior to the break.
After following up last week's victory over Barcelona - the first in LaLiga during Diego Simeone's tenure - with a goalless Champions League draw against Lokomotiv Moscow, the visitors looked set to suffer further frustration.
However, substitute Yannick Carrasco's low cross bounced off Lato's knee and into the net to finally beat Domenech and take Atleti level on points with Real Sociedad at the summit.
The highlights of the first half were superb stretching saves at either end, Valencia captain Domenech punching the air in delight after getting down to his right to expertly repel Thomas Lemar's deflected 13th-minute drive.
Jan Oblak - making his 200th LaLiga appearance - had to be alert to touch Uros Racic's awkward half-volley - seemingly a mishit cross - onto the post, before Domenech was again tested by Lemar, parrying a precise effort away from the same corner as his earlier attempt.
Atleti dominated after the restart, hogging more than 70 per cent of the possession until late in proceedings while facing only a single shot, though they scarcely threatened and needed a lucky bounce to snatch the points.
Carrasco advanced down Atleti's left and sent in a low ball that evaded Domenech, as well as two tussling players from either side, catching Lato unaware as the ball skipped up off his leg and in.
26 - @atletienglish have not lost any of their last 26 @LaLigaEN games with Koke Resurrección (W17 D9), winning the last six, since a 1-0 defeat against Barcelona in December 1, 2019. Captain. pic.twitter.com/8GCP4ww76G— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 28, 2020
What does it mean? Still the same Atletico
Victory over Barca seemed to represent a new dawn for Atleti, yet some things may never change. Simeone's side have long been stingy at one end - they have conceded just twice this term - but often underwhelm in attack.
Really, the away team should not have needed to rely on an own goal having played 33 per cent of the match in Valencia's third, albeit only the result matters as Atleti pile the pressure on La Real.
Defeat harsh on Domenech
It had appeared the personal battle between Domenech and Lemar would decide the match and, as so often this season, the goalkeeper excelled.
He has made a league-leading 40 saves - including 17 from long-range shots - and got the better of a man who desperately needs his luck to change. Unfortunately for Valencia, however, he could not save from his own team-mate.
Lemar's lean spell continues
Signed in 2018, Lemar's Atletico career is still yet to take off. He had three goals and three assists in his first LaLiga season but failed to contribute to a single goal last term - and it is the same story so far in 2020-21.
Lemar at least threatened on Saturday. Coming into the match, he had taken just one shot and created only two chances in six league games.
The France international had four attempts and created three chances in this fixture alone, but he still could not get his season up and running and was replaced with 25 minutes remaining.
50% - Thomas Lemar 🇫🇷 was involved in 50% of Atlético de Madrid’s shots against Valencia (7/14), with four shots (his highest tally in a game for the club) and three key passes. Impact. pic.twitter.com/ONnrwUxfHU— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 28, 2020
Key Opta facts
- Oblak has reached 200 appearances in LaLiga (112 clean sheets), becoming the second Atleti goalkeeper to achieve the milestone after Abel Resino (243 apps, 94 clean sheets).
- Kieran Trippier created three chances in this game, his second highest tally in a single away fixture in LaLiga (five against Granada in November 2019).
- Atletico are the only LaLiga side that has not trailed for a single minute so far this season.
- Valencia have failed to win any of their last 12 league games against Atleti (D5, L7), since a 3-1 win in October 2014. It is their longest current winless run against an opponent in the top flight.
- Atletico have only conceded two goals in their opening nine LaLiga games, the joint-lowest tally at this stage of a season in the competition's history.
Midweek brings a return to Champions League action as Atletico host Bayern. Valencia do not play again until a week on Monday - at Eibar.