Wednesday night’s episode of the increasingly popular Cholo’s Men series had all the usual twists and turns that has made the suspenseful, action-packed show must-watch television.
It was by no means pretty, but Atlético showed tremendous resolve to get the away win at Betis, coming out on top after a pair of fluky goals had seen them go down twice on the scoreboard.
Bailed out by their rampant firepower again following a couple of defensive miscues–or rather, in this case, defensive misfortunes, the triumph propelled los Colchoneros to second place in La Liga.
The result will leave Betis fans with a bitter taste in their mouths in the coming days as referee Álvarez Izquierdo’s decisions were admittedly harsh, but you won’t hear many complaints from a Rojiblanco camp all-too-familiar with adverse calls.
The mood in Colchonero-land at present is a blissful one; a concoction of joy, excitement and disbelief…with a hint of innocent delusion.
Look out Barça!
Eye-popping Atleti statistics: 16 games unbeaten in all competitions; 6 straight wins (4 in La Liga); 2nd place in Primera División; 15 goals scored in league play (most in Spain); league-leading 7 goals for Falcao; 6-point lead over Real Madrid.
Next up for Atlético are Espanyol, whose current league record of four losses and one draw is the exact opposite of ours: four wins and one draw.
There’s a realistic possibility we can gain even more ground on Tito Villanova’s Blaugrana side, as the league-leaders visit the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán this weekend, site of Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss of close to a fortnight ago.
Meh. Let’s not ruin the good cheer by contemplating the idea of having to root for Sevilla.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “We succumbed to nerves a bit until the fourth goal”
“I prefer not to opine on the referee,” declared Diego Simeone in the post-game press conference.
“If you consider the number of goal-scoring chances, I think we deserved to win the match. It has been a tough game. We knew it would be.
“I think we played a good first half except for the first 10 minutes where we didn’t put a lot of pressure up top. From the 15th minute on, the team began to press more up top and create chances.”
He continued: “At the half, the best player on the field was Betis’ goalkeeper. We began the second half with the penalty in our favour and the match started to go our way. The third goal came right after and from then on we succumbed to nerves a bit until the final minutes when we were able to seal the game.”
Remaining steadfast to his one-game-at-a-time principles, ‘El Cholo’ refused to comment on his club’s second place standing in La Liga and pretty much reiterated his statements from this past weekend.
“We don’t stop to look at the points; rather, we focus on the next opponent we face,” he said.
“The Spanish competition is very difficult, especially winning as visitors. Our mind is already set on Espanyol.”
With regard to his decision to pull Falcao out of the clash after the striker had tied the game for the second time shortly after the break, Simeone said: “After he shot the penalty kick he told me he had strained himself and we felt that it would be best to take him out at that moment, even though he had said he was okay to stay in longer.”
Falcao bags two more goals to take Pichichi lead, comes off early again
Following his early substitution on Sunday against Valladolid due to a groin strain, there were doubts Radamel Falcao would take part in Wednesday’s meeting.
It was a relief to see the Colombian’s name in the squad list on Tuesday, and even more alleviating when ‘El Tigre’ appeared in the fold when the starting line-up was unveiled.
The 26-year-old pounced on a low crossy-shot by Raúl García to knot things up at 1-1 in the 28th minute and there were no visible signs of impairment.
Minutes after converting the penalty kick that put us level with the Verdiblancos at 2-2 however, Radamel apparently aggravated the knock and Cholo and his training staff felt it was best to remove him at once.
With the brace, Falcao surpassed Lionel Messi as La Liga’s top scorer, taking his total up to seven while the Argentine’s account remains at six, but he assured he has no intention of competing with the Barcelona megastar.
“I simply want to score goals to contribute to my team and break my own records,” he told the press afterwards.
“In the end, we’ll see where I stand. The important thing is for us to achieve our objectives as a team.”
The former Porto man now has 31 goals in 39 league appearances and 46 goals in 56 total appearances in all competitions with Atlético. Falcao has scored from the spot in four consecutive league games.
Falcao isn’t sure he’ll be fit to take part in the upcoming bout at the Cornellà-El Prat, telling reporters, “Let’s see how [the injury] evolves and if I can be ready in time for Sunday.”
Costa strikes again
Diego Costa continued his rich vein of form, scoring what proved to be the match-winning goal with his first touch less than two minutes after replacing fellow forward Falcao.
It was the Brazilian’s first league goal with Atleti since the night of his glorious hat-trick in Pamplona from two seasons ago, coincidentally, another away game we ended up winning 3-2.
Costa has found the back of the net twice in the last three games now and is making a much stronger case for a starting job than Adrián, who didn’t see a minute of action at the Benito Villamarín.
Raúl García picks up an assist and another goal
Our other returning prodigal son, Raúl García, grabbed his first assist since coming back to Atleti from loan at Osasuna and hammered in the last nail of the Béticos’ coffin with his first league goal of the season and second of the term overall.
Of the Pamplona-born midfielder, Simeone said: “Raúl has played a solid game. Because of the characteristics of our players, we tried to give more dynamism to our midfield and free Arda a bit.
“We were also able to generate superiority on the left wing with Cristian [Rodríguez] and Filipe.”
When the match got underway, Raúl was situated in the centre, while Arda started off manning the right flank.
Nothing more than a decoy. It didn’t take long for the two to switch roles, the Turk taking over the reins of the attack from the middle while the Spaniard veered off to the right in the position he performed so well at in Israel last week.
Could this finally be the promising version of Raúl García we’ve been waiting for since signing him in 2007?
Mixed reviews for Asenjo, who was handed a rare league start in goal
Thibaut Courtois played it safe with a minor knee issue as advised by the team’s medical staff despite having passed an early morning fitness test on Wednesday.
Sergio Asenjo stepped in, and while many will be quick to hold the former Valladolid man accountable for not doing enough on Betis’ two goals, the truth is, it was a series of mistakes by the back line, particularly by Miranda and Godín, that bore the brunt of the blame for our opponents’ opening strike, while Juanfran’s bad luck had a lot to do with their second goal.
Perhaps Sergio could have reacted quicker on both plays, but it’s hard to entirely fault him.
Nonetheless, Courtois indeed offers much more security between the sticks–in spite of Sunday’s blooper, so it would be nice to see the Belgian return to action in Barcelona.
Godín called out?
Defender Cata Díaz replaced Diego Godín at the interval and there were no reports of the Uruguayan having sustained an injury after the game.
Was Simeone calling out his starting centre-back by sending him to the bench?
- Mario Suárez returned to the fold after coming off the bench on Sunday and provided the assist, a headed pass, that resulted in Costa’s goal. It was the Rojiblanco academy product’s first assist of the season and third overall as a member of Atlético’s senior team.
- Arda’s lovely assist on Raúl’s goal was his first in La Liga this season and second of the present campaign in all competitions. Last year, he ended with 10 overall.
- Koke reached the milestone of 50 games in La Liga when he came on for ‘Cebolla’ in the 70th minute.
- Atleti hadn’t scored 15 goals in their first five league games since 1955. (@pedromartin)
- The last coach to lead Atleti to 16 games unbeaten was Tomislav Ivić (1990/91), whose streak ended at 20 games without defeat. (@pedromartin)