Diego Simeone’s Atlético secured their first Primera División away triumph of the season in very convincing fashion, pummeling Real Sociedad 4-0 at Anoeta on Saturday.
When Simeone was formally unveiled at Atlético Madrid days before the New Year arrived, he laid out some of his objectives for the club.
The Argentine tactician and former Colchonero had told those in attendance at the Vicente Calderón:
“We’re looking for the best way to make the players that we have available function.
“I want to see an aggressive, strong, combative and determined team.”
True to his word, the 41-year-old has managed to exorcise the demons that were haunting the squad throughout the final weeks of Gregorio Manzano’s short reign, and has gotten los Colchoneros to play in a boldly assertive manner.
Simeone’s men have exhibited soldierly discipline in maintaining their shape and have shown, in these first three matches ‘El Cholo’ has been in charge, that they are committed to the cause and are willing to offer their maximum effort.
This renewed sense of duty was epitomised by our performance in San Sebastián Saturday night.
Los Rojiblancos suffocated the Txuri-urdin for most of the clash and limited them to only a single shot on target, recording their third clean sheet on the trot.
With less possession, Atlético created significantly more chances, some of which a sublime Falcao pounced on while on his way to his second hat-trick of the current campaign.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same team that was left in tatters following a precipitous drop in form in December.
Somehow, just one month later, Atleti have narrowed the distance between themselves and the European spots in the league table.
Simeone continues to exercise restraint
“When we arrived, we understood that we would take it match-by-match and we’re not going to change regardless of the result,” said Simeone in the post-game press conference.
“What interests us most is if the team improves or not, if individual performances contribute to making the group better, and if we better interpret how to run less to recover [the ball] more. That’s the only thing we’re concerned about.
“After that, it’s normal that football lives off of moods and, today, the mood of the Atlético Madrid fan is one of joy.”
‘El Cholo’ then offered his take on the way the clash evolved.
“The first 30 minutes were really good,” he said.
“Then, we fell a little in the match and Real Sociedad took ownership of the ball. We stopped pressuring in the right spots. We had to drop back a lot more than I would have liked and we [ended the half] pinned back because Real Sociedad played very well at the end of the first half.”
He continued: “Before the start of the second half we spoke about where we needed to be to do better.
“I think it was important to find the goal right away at the re-start and, later, the composure of the players to resolve the match was very good.”
Simeone praised his players, who he felt offered “great commitment” and “a great effort”.
“I’m very happy with the players because they have quickly understood the message that individual performances strengthen the team.
“Miranda has done very well, Godín has done very well, Juanfran, Diego…the men that came in ended up resolving the match with a lot of quality.
“It shows the group is okay and that we have to continue with a lot of calm because we know football changes often.”
Finally, the former Racing de Avellaneda boss explained the keys to a shut out.
“It’s an objective within the games to not concede a goal and to try to defend well,” he said.
“Attacking well is also defending because you are closer to the ball when you attack because you don’t allow the opposing team to counter-attack after one of your attacks because you are attentive…because you are close to the opponent.
“I believe that’s what we experienced today.”
Notes and observations:
- When Falcao bagged a brace in our last game against Villarreal his coach was unsatisfied, telling the press the Colombian should have scored three goals. Radamel apparently took Simeone’s words to heart, striking for three this time around. “Falcao is a player that adapts to everything and is very good at getting himself unmarked,” said Simeone of the club’s leading scorer, now with 14 goals in La Liga to close out the first half of the season and 17 goals overall. Coming into the match, the forward had only scored two goals in our previous eight away league matches. El Tigre’ is the first Atleti player to score two hat tricks in one league campaign since the 1997/98 season, when Italian hitman Christian Vieri put three past Zaragoza and hit Salamanca with four (via @pedritonumeros).
- Juanfran has been a revelation at right back the last two weeks, taking his game to another level against La Real. The former Osasuna man, who now looks very comfortable in his new role, was one of our most dangerous players and it appears he has supplanted Luis Perea as Sílvio’s back-up. Simeone will face a dilemma when the Portuguese defender is fully fit, as it will be hard to justify removing Juanfran from the back line.
- With the exception of an embarrassing whiff in front of the goal in the first half, Adrián put together another terrific outing. It’s amazing the Asturian forward ended up at Atleti like Moses in a baby basket last summer. How did so much quality elude the eyes of Europe’s sporting directors? The former Deportivo man took his tally up to 12 goals in all competitions this year, one more than his highest season total while in Galicia.
- These are lonely days for Courtois. I mention the young Belgian here only out of pity. The youngster, thanks to the tactics implemented by Simeone, has been forced out of the lime light somewhat but always looks to be well-positioned and alert in the rare instances our opponents have sniffed the goal these past couple of games.
- Domínguez came off the bench for his 100th first team appearance. The youth product was available this week after having served his one-match ban last week. Nonetheless, Simeone elected Miranda over the Madrid-born defender. Alvaro came in late for Arda though, and was involved in the play that led to Falcao’s third goal. Here’s the breakdown of the 22-year-old’s 100 appearances in red and white: 62 in league, 13 in Spanish cup, 5 in European Cup, 19 in Europa League and 1 in European Super Cup.
- Koke replaced Diego in the 80th minute and quickly provided two assists to Falcao. The beloved canterano dazzled fans, fully taking advantage of his 10 minutes on the pitch. The 20-year-old could be in line for a start at Osasuna given Diego’s suspension.
- It was, at best, a mediocre performance by Mario Suárez. The Rojiblanco youth product started in place of a suspended Tiago, whose growing shoes he simply failed to fill.
- Diego and Gabi each saw their fifth yellow card and will miss out on our trip to Pamplona next week. The Brazilian’s booking was the more frustrating of the two, and not because of his crucial role as the team’s playmaker; rather, his card was disappointing because it was completely avoidable. The last two times Diego has been shown yellow it has been because of excessive protesting. Of the pair’s unavailability next weekend, Simeone said: “We will try to work on it during the week the best way possible to be able to rely on other men who have a lot of desire to play, as we saw today. We have Salvio, we have Koke…we’ll see later on who plays.”