Atlético’s 2-1 loss to Mallorca on Sunday improved from what was looking like a major catastrophe to ending in a major downer, as we failed to capitalise on opportunities to turn the match on its head.
A tedious first 45 minutes of play that felt like a continuation of last weekend’s performance against Granada showed that, without the presence of players like Arda or Diego in the fold – the type that can display grace under pressure – our midfield is simply unable to develop any sort of flow.
Mario and Gabi and company consistently struggled to maintain their poise while los Bermellones applied constant pressure, and most of our attempts at getting the ball up to Falcao or Adrián were quickly broken up.
Like trying to make eye contact with a beautiful girl unaware of your existence, Atleti fans dutifully watched in anticipation of a moment of inspiration from anyone in the navy blue, royal blue and red kits, but that moment never came.
The home team were equally short of ideas though, and credit for the 0-0 scoreline at the half had to go to Mallorca’s man of the match up until that point: Atleti’s Europa League campaign.
A fluky Diego Godín own goal in the 47th minute followed by a Pereira strike just two minutes later sent us into a tailspin, but a Mallorca dismissal and a penalty call in our favour opened up the door for a possible comeback.
But Falcao promptly botched his spot kick and all hope was forever lost again, that was, until that instance of brilliance we had all been waiting for finally arrived in the form of a breathtaking wondergoal by ‘El Tigre’, unfazed – like only a true great would be – by his embarrassing miss minutes before.
Naysayers became believers and two minutes later Fran Mérida of all people sent a shot to the post that would’ve levelled the score.
Unfortunately, our hosts, reduced to 10-men, managed to withstand our late onslaught that in the end came up short, and we had to kiss all the points goodbye.
As things currently stand, an Espanyol victory or tie at home versus Racing on Monday would see us fall to 10th in the table, five points out of fourth place.
But a win over our visitors Bilbao on Wednesday would reactivate the Champions League chatter in the Colchonero camp, while a loss to los Leones could very well be the death knell for our hopes of bumping shoulders with Europe’s finest next season.
But who knows. It’s been all too often this year that we seemingly walk off a cliff only to land safely and bounce right back up.
The fact of the matter is, if you take a look around the table at most of our so-called direct rivals, they go through the same ups-and-downs as we do.
Just ask our upcoming foes Athletic. After experiencing the euphoria of knocking out Manchester United from the Europa League, absolutely schooling the Premier League-leaders over a stretch of two legs, they were abruptly brought back down to earth after a humbling 3-0 shellacking before their own fans at the hands of Valencia.
Post-game notes and quotes:
‘El Cholo’ is not giving up on Champions League objective in spite of setback
Simeone, who suffered his first road loss with Atleti, admitted that Sunday’s defeat “was a step back” but assured the season “doesn’t end here”.
“There are 11 fixtures left and our aspirations for Champions League remain intact,” he said in the post-game press conference.
“It’s clear that a loss isn’t a good thing, but we showed up, we had our chances, their goalkeeper blocked a penalty and we fought until the end, not only for the tie, but also for the victory.”
Simeone continued: “The team’s reaction after the blocked penalty shows that the squad never gave up, we fought, but we weren’t sharp in the final metres, where we failed to make better decisions.”
The iconic club hero, who only used two of his allotted three substitutions, felt his decision to replace Mario Suárez with Arda (“59) and Juanfran with Fran Mérida (“67) improved our attacking threat.
“The changes we made were really good for the team as we ended up looking for the goal by any possible means,” he said.
Fran Mérida makes first appearance in red and white in over 10 months
Fran Mérida, who spent the first half of the season rarely seeing action while on-loan at Braga, hadn’t seen the light of day since coming back to Atleti over the winter transfer window.
The 22-year-old’s last appearance in an Atlético uniform before taking the field on Sunday came back in May of 2011 under former coach Quique Sánchez Flores.
Mérida was just inches shy of a glorious return when his shot, which could have knotted things up at 2-2, hammered against the post shortly after he had stepped onto the pitch.
“He had a great opportunity, but he was denied by the post, plus, he knew how to manage himself well in a match in which the substitutions we made were really good for the team,” El Cholo said of the Catalan youngster.
Fran gave his own assessment of the game.
“The result wasn’t the one we wanted, but we have to continue with this work dynamic being imposed by the coach,” he said.
“We did enough to merit, at the very least, a tie. It’s a shame because the team gave their all on the pitch.”
The former Arsenal man seems to have impressed his boss, so it will be interesting to see if Simeone will grant him an expanded role from here on out.
Courtois wants us to keep our heads up
Young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who picked up two saves while also conceding for the first time in three games, is already looking past Sunday’s loss.
“We’re disappointed, but on Wednesday there’s another match and we have to win it,” he said.
“Now, we must pick our heads up.”
Salvio responds to his Twitter critics
It looks like Argentine striker Eduardo Salvio received a fair share of abuse through his Twitter account on Sunday.
‘Toto’, who had scored four goals in the previous four matches coming into the Mallorca game, thanked his supporters through the social networking site before responding to his detractors.
The 21-year-old wrote:
“We tried every way possible. This time, we were unlucky [and] now we must focus on the next match. Thanks for your support in the bad times as well.
“And for those others that are on Twitter to write [a lot of crap], don’t waste your time because it doesn’t affect me at all. Thanks to those who are true Atlético fans.”
No injuries were reported following this game.
Atlético’s official website reports on Monday that Diego and Tiago trained apart from the group again, so the pair look set to miss out on our midweek match at the Calderón.
There was no word as to Sílvio’s status, though it had been reported in the Spanish media last week that the Portuguese full back would be on crutches for a couple of weeks before he could return to training.
- Falcao’s goal was his 23rd of the season and 17th in the league. The Colombian’s strike tied former Colchonero Diego Forlán’s first year goal total at Atlético. It took the Uruguayan 53 games to reach number 23, while Falcao has achieved the same amount in his first 34 matches in red and white (via COPE reporter Pedro Martin). He has now scored in three straight games.
- El Tigre’s penalty miss was his first in six attempts with Atleti, as he had converted his previous five.
- Arda, who helped spark our attack when he came on for Mario in the 59th minute, picked up his sixth assist of the 2011/12 campaign.
- Right back Juanfran and midfielders Tiago and Gabi are all on four yellows coming into Wednesday’s clash.