Atlético Madrid turned in just the performance supporters have long been yearning for on Sunday, dominating proceedings at the Vicente Calderón from start to finish against a harmless Villarreal side.
Diego Simeone’s homecoming really couldn’t have gone any better for him, and while we’re only two games into El Cholo’s tenure, it does seem like the players are buying into their new coach’s testosterone-driven philosophy.
Atleti fans would be wise to temper expectations though, as we’ve all seen this movie before.
In fact, if Gregorio Manzano was watching the clash from his couch, decked out in his match-worn and unwashed Mario Suárez jersey, at some point the 55-year-old possibly muttered a “so what?” or even a “pshhh, I did that.”
For prior to this weekend’s encounter, we had taken 18 out of a possible 27 points up for grabs at home.
Also bear in mind that Sunday’s version of the Yellow Submarine resembled a plastic toy version of the underwater warship, now even more deeply submerged at the bottom of the Primera División table.
But despite mixed reviews from last week’s defensive-minded and at times violent approach in Málaga, the early returns of our recent coaching change are unquestionably promising.
Sunday’s noon match offered fans a completely different spectacle, with Simeone’s tweaks to the starting XI from a week before leading to an explosive, one-sided assault perpetrated by Atleti.
We out-shot Villarreal 20-3, with nine of our attempts being on target while holding el Submarino to zero shots on goal.
Though our men are certainly on the right track – successfully stifling their last two opponents’ attacking efforts on the way to back-to-back clean sheets – our upcoming trips into Basque Country to take on Real Sociedad and Osasuna will offer us more insight into the legitimacy of Simeone’s influence.
The new Rojiblanco boss himself warned that we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves just yet.
“We have to take things slowly,” Simeone said in his post-game press conference.
“We’re getting to know each other.”
He continued: “This change is attributed to the fact that [the players] are finding themselves. It’s an important squad, on which there are many new young men at Atlético, and that takes time.
“I want to thank them for their willingness to work. The team is improving, we have to do things calmly, and what really excites me is the players’ commitment to the club.
“That makes me very happy.”
Simeone commended the “intensity we played with” against “an opponent that has very good players”.
“The team played a great game, especially because of the pressure and the great commitment combined with the atmosphere that was experienced at the Calderón,” he said.
“This was an important match for Atlético Madrid, the fans, the players and for me.”
The Argentine tactician proceeded to dole out praise for some of his players, saying: “Today, Diego, like Miranda, Godín, Juanfran, playing as a full back, Gabi in the middle of the field pressuring, the team has played the way we wanted.”
Notes and observations:
- On his return to the Calderón, Simeone said: “This personal and professional moment is very lovely. There are times when you can’t really enjoy something like this because the result, the performance and the sense of responsibility you feel when the stadium is as packed as it was today prevents you from [enjoying it]. Without the players, we wouldn’t have been able to play this game.”
- Falcao ends month-long scoring drought. ‘El Tigre’ picked up his 10th and 11th league goals on Sunday and has now found the back of the net 14 times in all competitions in his first season in La Liga. The 25-year-old hadn’t scored since the 15th of December when we defeated Rennes in Madrid. As expected, the Colombian was much more actively involved with Adrián accompanying him up top, and was unlucky not to get his second hat trick of the current campaign against one of his favourite opponents. Simeone, who coached Falcao at River Plate when the forward was a budding young star, felt the former Porto man “should’ve scored three goals”. After the match, Falcao told reporters that “playing at the Calderón helps the forwards feel more confident”.
- Adrián was very instrumental in the attack. Whether it’s a question of unselfishness or lack of confidence to shoot, Adrián is very happy to serve as the provider and picked up his sixth assist of the season on our first goal. He’s really proving to be a sensation and routinely displays moments of elegance and finesse, such as his silky-smooth touch to Falcao in the play that resulted in a penalty and our second goal. Will Simeone dare to play two strikers away from home?
- Diego scores fourth goal of the season. The Brazilian had one of his better games in red and white and capped off his solid performance with a late strike, his fourth goal in all competitions with Atlético. “He’s an extraordinary player,” said Simeone. “I expect a lot from him. He’s a different kind of player who can play in any position because he is greatly committed to the team.”
- Juanfran shines at right back. Juanfran had very little to do defensively against a punchless Villarreal, but was very lively as he linked up with Diego on the right flank. It will be interesting to see how his role will evolve when Sílvio is fully fit to start again. Will it be back to the bench for the former Osasuna man, or does Simeone rank him ahead of others on the right wing?
- Tiago springs back to life. One of Cholo’s main changes to Manzano’s preferred line-up was to play Tiago in place of Mario Suárez. The Portuguese midfielder had been written off by most, but was a fierce, gritty warrior on Sunday. “He’s a man; he played for Juventus, on the national team; he’s a leader and a player that strengthens all lines,” Simeone said of the 30-year-old after the game. Unfortunately, Tiago will be suspended for our next match.
- Captain Gabi. The former Real Zaragoza man, who sported the captain’s armband, turned in a Raul García-esque performance in that he successfully executed his role as a sort of destroyer, intercepting passes and winning tackles but, when it came to contributing offensively, his play was just that: offensive.
- The rest of the results of the matchweek left us in 10th place and seven points behind fourth-place Levante.