La Liga - Atletico Madrid pour misery on Levante
Atletico Madrid warmed up for next weekend’s Madrid derby at the Bernabeu with a 3-2 Liga win over Levante at Vicente Calderon.
The pressure before the game had been on Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano, and the chorus of boos at half-time suggested that the Calderon fans had lost faith in their manager.
But the second-half introduction of Pizzi and Jose Antonio Reyes proved the difference, as they finally breached the veterans of the Levante back five, whose combined age adds up to almost 170 years.
Reyes set up the opener on 68 minutes for his fellow sub Pizzi to finish low through the legs of Levante goalkeeper Gustavo Munua. Xavi Torres equalised within a minute, but Adrian made it 2-1 with the third goal in three minutes, then Diego wrapped up the points in the 83rd minute.
Ruben Suarez pulled one back in injury-time for Levante, as the minnows - who are in freefall after being the surprise early pacesetters in La Liga - once again showed up the defensive frailties of the home side.
Whilst the home side had much of the early pressure, there was little potency up front, with most of the opportunities no more than half-chances.
Diego rolled an early shot wide of the goal, an unimpressive effort from the Atletico midfielder that Levante goalkeeper Munua was able to watch squirt wide.
Silvio stubbed an effort wide from the right channel, then Tiago volleyed over when well-placed.
Levante's Jose Barkero tried a quick free-kick in the 26th minute which whistled just wide of goal, but it was a rare effort from the visitors, who seemed intent on not conceding rather than creating anything themselves.
Moments later, Levante's Javier Farinos chested the ball in the area, and there were loud calls from the Atletico fans for a handball. However, the ball definitely hit chest rather than hand, and it was probably a sign of the frustration of the home fans that they thought they had a case.
The big moment of the first half came in the 40th minute when Adrian took take the ball off Sergio Ballesteros along the byline, before cutting inside. Farinos tripped him, but the referee inexplicably awarded a yellow card for diving rather than a penalty.
Atletico lost Tiago and Silvio to injury, but it was the third change, a tactical rather than enforced substitution that proved the difference. Reyes, who had missed the past three games due to a disagreement with the coach during the match against Athletic Bilbao, came on for Eduardo Salvio and with is second touch released PIzzi to shoot through the legs of Munua for the opening goal.
What followed was a mad three minutes, as a sleeping Atletico defence allowed Barkero to drive to the byline and cut the ball back for Xavi Torres to bundle home with a mishit shot.
Incredibly, the home side then went ahead again a minute later. Reyes fed Arda Turan down the right, and he crossed deep to the far post for Adrian to attack the ball and finish from close range.
In the 83rd minute, Diego made it 3-1 as he wrapped up the game with a cool finish. The ball dropped to the Brazilian after Javi Venta had miscontrolled an attempted interception of Adrian's reverse pass, and the midfielder slammed the ball past Munua.
Levante then showed the steel that has taken them to the unlikely position of fourth place in La Liga, when they pulled back a goal in injury-time. It was again sloppy from the Atletico defence, as full-back Juanfran was able to get to the left by-line and Ruben swept the cross into the top of the net.
However, the three points were Atletico's, who now climb into ninth position in La Liga.