In what was a very tactical and tense game at the top of La Liga in a battle between second placed Atletico Madrid and third placed Valencia, the hosts ran out 1-0 winners after the precision of a thunderous Angel Correa strike on 59 minutes proved the winner in a fairly uneventful clash at the top of the Spanish first division.
Atletico started the game in quick fashion, forcing the pace and pushing Valencia back early on.
The home side were certainly eager to maintain boss Diego Simeone’s unbeaten record against the away side and continued to push Valencia back but with little end product bringing action from Neto.
The best effort from the opening 15 minutes came from Saul Niguez in the 11th minute as the central midfielder fired a 35-yard shot high and wide of the Valencia goal.
Saul saw another chance to try his luck from distance 12 minutes later, the Spanish international’s shot bringing a diving save from Neto despite replays showing the shot inches wide.
Atleti troubled the goal face on 27 minutes when a cross from Vrsalko brought panic in the Valencia defence when Diego Costa attempted an overhead kick, with Antoine Griezmann failing to make the most from the rebound.
Eight minutes later saw Neto in action once more as a thumping header from Costa brought an athletic reaction save from the Brazilian to keep parity.
The closest chance of the half for the away side fell eight minutes before the break when a quick free-kick was passed wide to a free Jose Gaya on the left wing, the Spaniard needing two chances to whip in a ball that finds forward Simone Zaza. The Italian firing a stumbling effort harmlessly wide of Jan Oblak’s goal.
The tense battle continued in similar vein for both sides after the interval. Proceedings were slowed when Atletico centre-back Diego Godin was substituted after being punched in the face by Neto as the pair challenged for a cross – with the Uruguayan defender losing a tooth for his troubles.
Griezmann directed a tame header towards Neto on 53 minutes, bringing a simple save from the keeper as Simeone’s side continued to have the lion’s share of possession.
With half an hour to go, Atleti found their all important breakthrough via a sublime 22-yard pile-driver from the boot of Correa. After receiving the ball in the final third from Koke, the winger had the time to turn, compose and shoot a pin-point shot thunderously past a despairing Neto.
Correa proved troublesome on a couple more occasions, the most notable being another shot in space at the edge of the 18-yard box forcing a save from the Valencia goalkeeper.
As the game drew to a close, despite the introduction of all three substitutes for the away side it failed to generate any new threat or urgency from Marcelino’s men, with Simeone’s side happy to absorb pressure and try and counter.
Valencia’s efforts in the tie were summed up with ten minutes to go when Soler blazed a shot high and wide with Oblak having a relaxed time in goal, meaning Atletico sit as the only side who can really trouble Barcelona at the top, especially after their 1-1 draw with Espanyol earlier on Sunday.