The march up the table for Atlético Madrid and Diego Simeone continued on Monday night, with the Rojiblancos‘ grinding out a vital 1-0 win away at Osasuna.
Diego Godín’s goal just before the interval separated the two sides, and moved the visitors within just two points of the Champions League places.
Cholo made two changes from the 11 that set aside Real Sociedad last weekend, both of which were forced. An accumulation of yellow cards meant that Diego and Gabi both missed out, so Koke and Tiago, captain for the night, took their place.
The hosts had the first chance of an uneventful first half, but Serbian striker Dejan Lekic couldn’t guide his header inside Courtois’ left post.
Neither team came flying out of the traps, although Atleti did have a great chance to open the scoring on 10 minutes. Goalkeeper Andrés Fernández, man of the match when the teams met in the Calderón back in August, was equal to Koke’s stinging volley.
The young midfielder then set up what perhaps should have been a goal for the away side. His corner found its way to Radamel Falcao, but the Colombian’s scrambled effort was ruled out due to a push from Diego Godín.
As always, los Rojillos did their utmost to play at a high tempo, but struggled to find any real sights of goal in the opening period. Roland Lamah did see his long range effort prevented by Courtois midway through the half, although that was the best it got for José Mendilibar’s side.
Atlético grew into the game as it wore on, and Filipe Luís was almost able to claim a fabulous assist on 39 minutes. The Brazilian left-back evaded a series of challenges before seeing his low cross cleared away.
Just minutes later however, the visitors did manage to breakthrough courtesy of a very unexpected source. Once again Koke’s corner found the boot of Falcao, and this time following in was Diego Godín to stab home his first goal of the campaign.
Koke, starting for the first time this year, nearly doubled the lead in added time, but his teasing free-kick curled the wrong side of the post.
Simeone’s team came out for the second half with the same attacking purpose, and soon found a sight of goal through Adrián. Quiet up until this point, the Asturian striker quickly burst into life, and was presented with another golden chance not long afterwards.
On 51 minutes, Osasuna’s usually dependable defence was split wide open through a combination of Falcao and Adrián, but the latter could not keep his composure when 1-on-1 with Andrés.
The rookie goalkeeper could do nothing about Koke’s rebound, but luckily for him the youngster’s effort didn’t find the top corner of his net.
The home side responded with a series of corners and crosses into the box, but saw their backline exposed yet again on the hour mark. It was the turn of Falcao to miss a gilt-edged opportunity for los Colchoneros, holding off both defenders and goalkeeper before proceeding to scuff the ball wide from a difficult angle.
15 minutes from the end, our curse of conceding goals to players we’ve loaned out almost came back to haunt us for the umpteenth time, but Raúl García’s headed effort was well-blocked by Courtois.
The Belgian ‘keeper came to our rescue yet again in the following passage of play, first diving low to deny Lekic, and then saving twice from what appeared to be goal-bound headers.
With the home side going all out for the winner, Simeone opted to sit back for the final stages and ensure his perfect defensive record remained intact. On came Luis Perea for his 300th appearance in red and white, as well as Salvio and Domínguez.
The local fans inside the Reyno de Navarra roared their team towards the Atlético goal, but as we have been getting used to in recent weeks, our rearguard stood firm and managed to deal with everything that was thrown at them.
By the time the final whistle was blown by referee Pérez Montero, not the most popular man inside the stadium, our defence had gone an incredible 449 minutes without being breached.
Next week, Atleti return to the Calderón after our exploits in the Basque country, where Cholo will be hoping to lead us to another victory against Champions League rivals Valencia.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran (“79 Perea), Godín, Miranda, Filipe; Mario, Tiago, Koke (“81 Salvio), Arda (“87 Domínguez); Adrián, Falcao.
Goals: 0-1 Godín (“41).