Atlético got the job done against Granada on Sunday, picking up the critical three points in play simply by going through the motions at the Vicente Calderón.
The end result seemed to be a foregone conclusion in the days and hours leading up to the clash, but the league rules mandate that 22 players must actually line up and play for a full 90 minutes before points can be distributed.
The dull effort put on display by los Colchoneros, funnily enough, was good for the same reward that our hard-fought battles against Racing, Sporting, Barcelona and Sevilla combined amounted to.
Football can be so nutty sometimes.
Other La Liga results over the weekend tended to mostly favour Atleti, who inched up to eighth in the league table and are now four points behind fourth-place Málaga.
Diego Simeone’s men, evidently exhausted from the non-stop action resulting from simultaneous participation in two competitions, face three days of rest before embarking on a grueling stretch of four games in a span of 10 days, beginning with a trip to Istanbul for the second leg of our Europa League last 16 fixture versus Beşiktaş on Thursday, and then it’s off to Mallorca on Sunday.
Should anyone remain standing, we are scheduled to host a mighty Athletic Bilbao on the 21st of March before hitting the road once again Zaragoza-bound the following match week.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone pleased with result despite lacklustre effort
‘El Cholo’, who took his record at the helm of Atlético to 7 wins, 5 draws and 1 loss, served as the conductor of the masses at the Vicente Calderón Sunday, especially in the waning minutes of the affair.
Fans in attendance began growing restless with their team’s uninspired performance and enthusiasm was fading quickly as the clock continued to tick towards full time in spite of a slim, seemingly safe 1-0 lead.
In an effort to drum up support for his men, Simeone signalled the crowd, composed of a near capacity 54,000 people, to turn up the stadium’s volume by violently throwing his arms up-and-down on the sidelines.
“I’d invite the fans to sit on the bench and hear when the crowd is shouting, it’s thrilling,” said the Calderón’s maestro in the post-game press conference.
“I greatly value when the team wins without playing well, because that means you are achieving stability. You can’t always play well.”
Simeone continued: “It’s exciting what the players are doing. When things aren’t going well for us with the ball, they resolve [the game] in other ways.”
Falcao responds to a small group of detractors with a goal
“Falcao didn’t play a good game, but I never thought about taking him out because he is a goalscorer and I knew he would end up scoring a goal,” Simeone said of his squad’s leading scorer.
The Colombian striker, who really did struggle in all aspects of his game on Sunday, was clearly affected by the catcalls that rained down upon him with about 15 minutes left to go from a small sector of the stands at the Calderón.
Nothing seemed to be going right for ‘El Tigre’, and impatient fans let him have it.
In a Forlánesque moment of weakness and against his better judgment, when Falcao just did manage to get one past Granada keeper Júlio César thanks to a spectacular run by Juanfran, he confronted his doubters by holding his hand to his ear in a “I can’t hear you now” gesture (see photo above).
Coincidentally, Falcao tied Uruguayo’s first-year-at-Atleti goal total of 16 in La Liga, nabbing his 21st overall strike of his inaugural Colchonero campaign.
With a little more luck, the 26-year-old could have had a brace, his final shot with seconds left to play smacking against the post.
The former Porto man wisely avoided further controversy when he commented on the win on Twitter later in the evening.
“After 5 games well played and no victories achieved, today we won again. We didn’t play a great match but we’re closer to the Champions!” he wrote.
Midfielder Mario Suárez used his own Twitter account to express his support for Falcao.
“I’m happy for my friend ‘El Tigre’ Falcao!! When there was some or other strange noise he took off and saved the team!! You are great! forza atleti”, he tweeted out.
While Mario’s heart was in the right place in defending his team-mate, if anyone took off and saved the team, that person was Juanfran.
Juanfran hailed as hero, credits young boy in the crowd who gave him water
In Apocalypto-like running-for-his-life fashion, the former Osasuna man bolted up the right flank for an epic full-field sprint in injury time getting past no less than three opponents before knocking a square pass into the box to Falcao who hammered home our 2-0 insurance goal.
It was the 27-year-old’s crowning achievement while donning a red and white shirt, and his team-mates made sure to let him know as much during the celebration of the goal and as they headed into the locker room after the final whistle had blown.
In a story reminiscent of a biblical parable, Juanfran told Spanish paper El Pais afterwards:
“In the 70th or 80th minute, I asked a fan for water, no one had any, and a kid came out with a bottle,” he said.
“That water gave me strength to endure the last 10 minutes and the run I made, and I told him that I would give him my shirt later.”
The winger-turned-right back was modest about his breathtaking assist.
“It was a good gallop that ‘El Tigre’ finished off well,” he said.
“If it hadn’t ended up as a goal, the play would not be seen anywhere and no one would ever remember it.”
He continued: “I’m very proud, especially because it has taken a lot for me. My beginnings at Atlético haven’t been as good as I had expected and I have worked very hard for these days to come and for people to acknowledge my work, though I don’t need them to [cheer my name], only that they see that I am a hard worker.”
Miranda scores his first goal with Atlético
Brazilian centre back Miranda, after only 31 matches, did what fellow defender Luis Amaranto Perea has been unable to do in 307 appearances with Atleti: score a goal (though one always feels obliged to mention Perea’s wrongly disallowed goal against Real Madrid back in the 2006/07 season; his celebration and then reaction to finding out it didn’t count will break your heart every single time).
Minutes earlier, the former São Paulo man had very clumsily struck a chance in front of goal that veered way off the mark and towards the corner flag, surely evoking some mocking giggles among the Colchonero faithful.
His spectacular scissor-kick volley elicited quite the opposite reaction.
Arda Turan was handed some playing time in the second half as expected, replacing Salvio in the 69th minute, and looked to be fully fit again.
“Arda gave us tranquility and helped us rest with the ball,” said Simeone about the Turkish playmaker before adding that “the final minutes were the best of the match”.
Sílvio to go under the knife
It goes from bad to worse for the versatile Portuguese full back. Sílvio, Atlético’s official site reported, will have surgery on Monday in Portugal to repair ligaments in his sprained left knee.
It’s unclear if this operation is of the arthroscopic variety that Antonio López underwent earlier in the season, or if it will be the major type that will keep him out for six to nine months.
Whatever the case may be, it seems very unlikely the 24-year-old will see any more action before the end of the season, though we will report on the details of the procedure once they are known.
Diego set for return against Zaragoza
Midfield architect Diego, according to AS reporter Dani Hidalgo, has his sights set on a return for our match against Real Zaragoza at the Romareda on the 25th of March.
The on-loan footballer ran apart from the group at the club’s Cerro del Espino training facility on Monday.
Antonio López has recovered from his ailments
Atleti skipper Antonio López fully trained on Monday and is at his coach’s disposal for our upcoming games.
Tiago remains on the shelf
The former Juventus man worked out indoors as he continues to be on the mend. It’s unclear when he is expected to be available again.
- Diego Godín picked up his second assist of the season with his headed pass to Miranda on our first goal, while Juanfran’s assist was his first on the year.
- 19-year-old Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois bagged his 17th shutout of the season. With 12 clean sheets in La Liga now, Atleti are second to Barcelona in the category. The Culés got their 13th on Sunday.
- Rojiblanco youth product Gabi took part in his 100th game with Atlético on Sunday.
- Filipe Luis served his one-match ban and will be available (barring injury) next week when we take on Mallorca.