Atlético’s first comeback win of the season in La Liga, a 2-1 triumph over direct rivals Málaga, offered los Colchoneros’ Champions League aspirations just enough oxygen to ensure they arrive into next Sunday with a pulse, albeit a very faint one.
A summer of torment awaits us should we fail to land the fourth place spot and fall two points short of our objective, as we will be left to rue countless missed opportunities, blown chances in front of goal, bad calls by referees, shots off the post and stupidly conceded penalties at the end of matches.
Or, all of those nightmares can magically be wiped away should the improbable happen next weekend: we win in Villarreal and Málaga fail to take three points when they host Sporting Gijón.
What a massive week that lies ahead, beginning with Wednesday’s trip to Bucharest to square off against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final.
It can be all or nothing for Atleti.
Will we wake up Monday the 14th as crowned kings of UEFA’s junior competition for the second time in three years and with a ticket to next season’s edition of the Champions League or, with absolutely nothing–no title, no European tournament qualification, no Diego, no Falcao and no Adrián?
Brace yourselves Rojiblancos, it’s going to be a wild wild finish.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone pleased with current state of affairs
“If when we arrived in January they would’ve told us that we’d end up with this week ahead of us, we would’ve signed the deal,” said Atlético coach Diego Simeone, who took over for Gregorio Manzano back in December when the squad was 15 points out of the race for a Champions League berth.
With one league fixture left to play, that gap has been reduced to just two points.
In response to a reporter who asked what he felt Atlético’s chances were, ‘El Cholo’ responded: “No one knows the future. We have demands and responsibilities.
“We have hope, and the competition, as we can see, is still open. We have less chances than others but we will fight until the last day.”
The 42-year-old then analysed the triumph, admitting “Málaga were superior in the first half, they had situations to get ahead in the match.”
He continued: “We could not find a solution to their play between the lines. We had one very clear chance through Falcao to open the scoring, but Málaga were superior.
“We rearranged ourselves better. We started playing higher up and got stronger in midfield. From then on, when we grew in midfield, the team played in our opponents’ territory and the goal appeared.”
Koke strike sparks comeback
Atlético youth product and long-time fan favourite Koke replaced fellow canterano Mario Suárez in the 58th minute, one of Simeone’s most aggressive substitutions since taking charge.
The plan paid off for the Argentine tactician, as the youngster blasted a long-distance volley that hit the back of the net untouched, slicing through a number of both Atleti and Málaga players before sneaking under the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Kameni.
It was Koke’s second goal of the current campaign, and fourth since his promotion to the first team.
The Spain youth international tweeted the following message after the game:
“Great effort by everyone today, all that’s left is the final push. Thanks to everyone for the support.”
Adrian scores match-winner with first league goal since January
Revelation striker Adrián has had a remarkable first season with Atleti since joining from Deportivo last summer, particularly in the Europa League, a tournament he has bagged 11 goals in since the qualifying rounds of the competition.
But the 24-year-old has had a harder time finding the back of the net in domestic action, only scoring seven goals in 35 appearances from 60 total shots taken.
Saturday’s match-winner was crucial though, as the Asturian’s goal in the 79th minute, off a brilliantly headed flick by Falcao, turned the clash on its head.
“We said we would fight until the end,” Adrián told La Sexta afterwards. “We knew it was a very important match against a direct rival that we had to win to arrive with possibilities in the end.”
With regard to the upcoming trip to Romania, the Spaniard said: “I’m very happy about being able to make it to the final in my first season. Now, let’s hope everything goes well for us.”
An image that will surely be etched into our memories forever was Adrián’s touching celebration of his goal, leading his team-mates to the sidelines to lift Perea’s No. 21 and Antonio López’ No. 3 shirts in a classy tribute to the departing players.
Perea and Antonio Lopez speak of their emotional farewell
Atlético captains Luis Amaranto Perea and Antonio López were left off the match selection through injury, but that didn’t stop them from making an appearance on the pitch on Saturday.
The long-time Rojiblanco veterans walked onto the field before proceedings got underway, greeted by their team-mates, coaching staff, club officials and the somewhat sparse crowd in the stands scattered about because of the stormy weather, and were presented with a club badge of gold and diamonds–the “maximum distinction at the Rojiblanco level” claimed Atlético’s official site.
Chants of “Pereaaa, Pereaaa” rang out throughout the Vicente Calderón, while Antonio López’ name strangely went unheard.
“I always said that I could not retire from Atlético Madrid without winning a title,” left-back Antonio López said.
“Fortunately, I’ve lifted two and I hope we don’t fail to take advantage of the opportunity to lift a third.”
Colombian defender Perea’s words were a bit more sentimental.
“The truth is, I feel a bit empty right now,” the 33-year-old said.
“I’ve spent many years here, practically a lifetime, at a club that has given me everything. It has been a very important era for me. I’ll always be fan number one.
“There are three important things in my life: God, my family and Atlético Madrid. Three things that I love with all my heart.”
Are you crying yet? No? Well then keep reading.
He continued: “It’s the end of an era, with the pride and satisfaction of having worn colours that I’ve always wanted to wear.
“I appreciate everyone’s support and I hope that you enjoyed my play and what I was able to offer.”
- Falcao picked up his fourth assist of the season with his headed through-ball to Adrián. The Colombian amazingly got to the ball, a goal kick from Thibaut Courtois, beating out the Málaga defender manning him to the challenge.
- The win was Atlético’s 30th of the season (13 under Manzano, 17 under Simeone), the most wins in a campaign since we won the Doblete in 1995/96. We tallied 33 victories in that legendary year. (via @pedritonumeros)
- Atleti took their unbeaten streak to 7 games.
- Arda, who came in for Diego in the 75th minute, will be suspended for our last league game against Villarreal after picking up his 10th yellow card Saturday.