Atlético, rather surprisingly given their tendency to zone out in La Liga following midweek Europa League play, put on a vigorous display against Espanyol to keep the party alive on the way to their third consecutive victory.
Sunday’s match, sandwiched between our semi-final fixtures versus Valencia, was more of the same razzle-dazzle carried over from Thursday night, much to the delight of the roughly 11,000 young Colchoneros in attendance along with their parents.
The Vicente Calderón atmosphere was absolutely electrifying and was sure to have converted a couple hundred or so club-less fans to the Rojiblanco cause. Perhaps we even picked up a couple of former Barcelona supporters freshly fallen off the Culé bandwagon.
Welcome aboard. Fasten your seat belts because it will be a very bumpy ride.
Arda’s brace, which should qualify as a hat-trick given the quality of the Turk’s goals, was vital to our hopes of taking part in continental action next season for two reasons:
(1) the three points from the win brought us up to seventh place and, given that Athletic are in sixth and are taking part in the Copa del Rey final, should they end up ahead of us on the league table we would qualify for Europa League the same way we did last year if we finish seventh; and
(2) the 3-1 victory brought us level with Espanyol at 5-5 head-to-head given that they had defeated us 4-2 in Barcelona; but our 2 away goals gives us a crucial advantage should we finish tied in points with los Periquitos as we own the tie-breaker.
And for those that like to receive their good news in threes, our triumph moves us to within three points of Málaga in the relentless fight for a Champions League berth spot, though Manuel Pellegrini’s men will get the chance to break six points clear of us when they take on Osasuna in Pamplona on Monday.
Unfortunately, Osasuna’s most lethal attacker, our very own Raúl García, is suspended for the encounter though there’s no ruling out his nose from doing some damage from the stands.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Diego Simeone showers his men with praise
“I repeat what I’ve said for weeks: what these players are doing is heroic,” Atleti boss Diego Simeone said in the post-game press conference.
“The footballers give their spirit and they have a sense of responsibility, hope and commitment that’s beautiful to see. Hopefully we can continue like this. Good things strengthen us.”
‘El Cholo’ then gave his analysis of the clash.
“We began the match well,” he said.
“We had chances to score and we did some damage against Espanyol. Our goal arrived and then came theirs and from there on out Espanyol grew into the game. Our opponents had a very good 20 minutes of football, though they didn’t have very many chances.
“But every time we attacked we looked like we could hurt our opponents. In the second half Mario Suárez came in and our second half was very good. In the second half the team infected the crowd and the supporters were ignited.”
Arda delivers big
“In one match Falcao was decisive, in this match, Arda was,” said Simeone about our Turkish wonder.
“Arda’s presence in front of goal was a screaming necessity. He turned in a fantastic second half performance for us. He’s, technically and tactically, a very important player for the team, but we don’t have time to stop and think nor to enjoy.
“We must rest, eat and prepare to play on Thursday against Valencia.”
The 25-year-old former Galatasaray captain added his fourth and fifth goals of his inaugural Atleti campaign in a span of two minutes about an hour into the game and, curiously, his three league goals this season have all come against Espanyol.
“I’m very happy about the goals but the important thing is the victory,” Arda said afterwards.
The midfielder then proceeded to dismiss our suggestion that his first goal should’ve counted double.
“It doesn’t really matter how the goals are scored, in the end, goals are goals,” he said very modestly, though he did recognise that his bicycle kick match-winner was pretty freakin’ sweet.
“The first one was lovelier,” he said.
“We’re dreaming of reaching the [Europa League] final and we’re going to give our all to achieve that.”
Godín is on the path to redemption
A great deal of fuss was made in Rojiblanco land when the starting line-up revealed Diego Godín’s name on it. The Uruguayan centre-back has had some atrocious outings in the last couple of weeks.
In addition to his poor marking and positioning, ‘el Delfín’ (‘the Dolphin’) has committed some boneheaded and costly penalties lately.
But the former Villarreal man was able to redeem himself a bit by opening up the scoring on Sunday with a brilliant header off a corner kick executed by Diego. It was the defender’s third goal of the season. The Uruguay international also added his second assist of the year on our third goal.
“I really wanted to do things well because in the derby, from a personal standpoint, things didn’t go that well for me and I’m happy for having scored and for having played a good match personally, and for the team, for the great game,” he told reporters after the match.
Salvio stood out despite not getting his name on the scoresheet
Eduardo Salvio sustained a high level of excellent play, uncharacteristically, for the entirety of the match as opposed to his tendency to turn on and off intermittently. The Argentine threatened from both the right and left flanks, interchanging sides throughout the course of the game.
‘Toto’, who recently became a father, seems to have lost some weight – he looks thinner in the face and, after the final whistle blew, he took off his shirt to reveal a bony physique – and didn’t stop to bend over to catch his breath once this time.
The 21-year-old was very unlucky not to have added to his goal tally, driving a low missile to the post in the final minutes of the match.
- Diego added his seventh assist on his corner kick that resulted in our opening goal headed in by Godín.
- Juanfran notched up his fifth assist on the year following a dazzling run and cross from the right flank that Arda smacked home with an overhead kick.
- Club leading scorer Radamel Falcao, who came into Sunday’s game having scored 12 goals in our last 12 matches, was shut out this weekend snapping his string of six straight matches scoring at the Calderón.