Inspired subs help Atletico top Valencia, pull within 8 points of Barca
Two inspirational substitutions from Diego Simeone helped give Atletico Madrid a 3-1 win at Valencia that keeps the Rojiblancos within eight points of Primera Division leaders Barcelona.
Substitute Fernando Torres poked the visitors back in front on 72 minutes after Valencia forward Denis Cheryshev had cancelled out Antoine Griezmann's opener, while Yannick Carrasco also made his mark after coming off the bench.
He scored a great individual goal late on to kill off the hosts, who had had defender Aderlan Santos dismissed just minutes before.
A third successive victory sees Atletico maintain the gap to leaders Barcelona, who won earlier on Sunday, while Valencia slip down to 11th after suffering a third home defeat in the league. And there was more misery for Valencia coach Gary Neville as goal hero Cheryshev was forced off with a suspected muscle injury.
Atletico were without their inspirational centre-half Diego Godin and Montenegro international Stefan Savic, so inexperienced Lucas Hernandez partnered 21-year-old Jose Gimenez at the back. Atletico were also under-strength in midfield with Augusto Fernandez suspended, so Matias Kranevitter made his first league start. Valencia's only absentees were the injured Zakaria Bakkali and suspended full-back Jose Gaya.
Atletico had produced one of their most convincing performances of the season in midweek against Real Sociedad and in spite of their missing players looked stronger and more confident than Valencia in the opening stages.
It was the visitors who had the first few attempts, Koke and Luciano Vietto missing the target and Griezmann firing at Diego Alves and forcing a corner.
The lively Cheryshev had the first effort for the hosts, a near-post volley which Jan Oblak just managed to beat away.
But Atletico took the lead down the other end a moment later. Javi Fuego gave the ball away to Griezmann outside the area and the Frenchman unleashed a lethal low drive right into the bottom corner, scoring a third goal in as many games. It was also the seventh consecutive home game in which Neville's side had conceded first.
Valencia looked set for another long evening in front of their demanding fans but replied just four minutes later.
Former Atletico defender Guilherme Siqueira cut in from the left wing and crossed to Paco Alcacer, who cushioned his header into the path of Cheryshev and he arrowed his shot into the opposite corner of the net, prompting a wild celebration from Neville on the touchline.
The Russian could even have given Valencia the lead later in the half after another brilliant lay-off from Alcacer, but fired just over the bar. Vietto had two further chances to restore Atletico's lead but was wasteful yet again.
The Argentinian's best effort came on the hour mark, rifling the ball at goal from inside the area, but Alves threw out a hand to send the ball on to the crossbar.
The luckless 21-year-old was soon replaced by Carrasco, while his compatriot Kranevitter was taken off for Torres. Valencia also had to make an unwanted change when Cheryshev suffered a muscle injury.
Simeone's changes paid dividends. Torres forced a corner and then took up his place at the far post, where he dived forward to meet Gimenez's flicked header and poke into the net on the volley.
Atletico stalwart Torres had a another positive impact, drawing the foul from Santos which resulted in the Valencia defender's second booking.
Then it was the turn of the other substitute to kill off Valencia once and for all.
Carrasco picked the ball up on the right-hand side and made for the box, turning a defender and blasting the ball at Alves, who could not prevent it from hitting the net.