Diego Simeone praised a “marvellous” second-half performance from Atletico Madrid in a dramatic 3-2 comeback win against Valencia in LaLiga on Saturday, saying “there are nights that stay with you, and this one will.”
Atletico were trailing 0-2 after first half goals from Yunus Musah and Hugo Duro for Valencia when substitute Matheus Cunha pulled a goal back on 64 minutes. Angel Correa and Mario Hermoso both struck in added time to give Atletico a much-needed late victory after failing to win their previous three matches, including losses to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Supercopa and Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey.
“We weren’t ourselves in the first half,” Simeone said in his post-match news conference. “We couldn’t play the game we wanted. At half time, with desperation and anxiety at what was happening, we stayed calm. I said there are ways of losing. If we’re going to lose, we have to lose with pride.”
Simeone has come under pressure this season as Atletico have struggled to mount a convincing defence of their LaLiga title. Saturday’s win leaves them fourth in the table, 13 points behind leaders Real Madrid.
At two goals down, the coach decided to withdraw forward Joao Felix and replace him with centre-back Felipe, drawing some whistles from fans at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t understand Felipe coming on for Joao,” Simeone said. “That’s normal… but we needed Cunha in the box, and quick players at the back to deal with counter attacks. It was a fantastic second half. We were ourselves. Watching that second half, I felt: this is us.”
Simeone recently celebrated his ten-year anniversary as Atletico manager, having taken over in December 2011, and the criticism he has faced this season — the latest coming after a meek cup defeat to La Real in midweek — has been as harsh as any that he has faced in that time.
“What did I feel? That it’s marvellous, this place I’m in,” he said on Saturday, when asked to describe his emotions on the final whistle. “Whenever it feels like it might be going, I want to hold on even tighter. In the first half, my heart hurt.”
For United States international Musah, he said the loss hurts and that it will be a learning experience for Los Che.
“To lose 3-2 after being up 2-0, when we had the game, it hurts a lot. We need more experience, we need to learn a lot,” he told Movistar. “We must learn quickly, because if not then these type of teams will beat you. We can’t go continue like this.”