With all attention turned to Camp Nou, real fans of Spanish football knew that the biggest spectacle of round seven of La Liga was taking place at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday Night.
Over in Madrid, Atlético hosted Málaga in a battle between the clubs in second and third place.
Both teams showed a true desire to move up to the top spot in Spain, realising that this matchup could also be decisive when Champions League tickets are on the line at the end of the season.
Because of a fantastic game mentality, a rocking home crowd and a brace by Radamel Falcao (in our eyes at least though the referee’s official act read that our second was a Weligton own goal), it’s the Rojiblancos who came out victorious against an in-form Málaga.
Belözöglu Emre got a surprise start and led Atleti in the opening minutes. Three inviting crosses by the Turk’s sweet left foot provided good opportunities early on.
Emre’s first cross, just six minutes in, immediately was turned into a goal by Radamel Falcao. The Colombian, who had skipped our previous two games as a precaution for the clash with Málaga, dove to the ball and headed it past Caballero.
With his eighth goal in league play, El Tigre tied Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who had both scored twice earlier on the night in that other affair.
Diego Godín headed just wide from another centre by Emre just a few minutes later.
Referee Pérez Lasa, who along with his linesmen made some poor choices, prevented Atleti from doubling their lead. First Adrián was called back for offside, and later the same happened when Falcao was clean through on goal. The latter had reasons to complain as replays showed he was clearly still on when Gabi put him through.
Atlético had started the game ferociously and won every battle on any part of the pitch. But a half hour into the game the players seemed to have run out of gas, and with our energy drained Málaga started to grow into the game. A first shot on target was fired by Nacho Camacho, the former Rojiblanco who has become a regular for Pellegrini in Andalusia.
A few moments later the Anchovies equalised. After touches from Camacho, Joaquín and Isco, it was Monreal who delivered a fine cross to Roque Santa Cruz. The Paraguayan striker had been invisible up until that point and would be replaced at half time, but he moved extremely well and headed in at the near post.
After the break, with their tanks all filled up, Atleti started part two of their search for a victory over their direct rival and nearly struck early again. Under heavy pressure, Falcao hit just wide after a fantastic move by Adrián, who played one of his better games this season.
Our ‘Perfect Seven’ (as team-mates like to refer to him as in the locker room) was a menace down the left wing and hit the side netting when he went for his own chance a few minutes later.
As time went by and a draw seemed the most likely result, the game opened up with opportunities on each side. After some end-to-end action it was playmaker Isco whose shot skimmed the crossbar.
Just when everybody thought the game was over, a true winner stepped up. In the dying seconds of the game Atleti marched forward for one more free kick, which to the surprise of everyone was converted (or shoved through) into a goal by Radamel Falcao, who again made the Vicente Calderón erupt. With the late winner he not only got his team the important three points, but it also made sure the home crowd was rewarded for creating a fantastic atmosphere on a late Sunday night.
If Falcao is eventually awarded the double, it will take him to the top of the goal scoring table. Regardless if he climbs back to first place in the Pichichi rankings by himself or not, Atleti have tied Barcelona in the Liga BBVA. After seven rounds we now sit at the top of the Primera División with a comfortable five points ahead of Málaga and everybody else below them.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Gabi, Mario, Emre (“60 Rodríguez); Adrián (“69 Raúl García), Arda (“92 Tiago) and Falcao.
Goals: 1-0 Falcao (“6); 1-1 Santa Cruz (“36); 2-1 Welligton o.g. (“90)