Atlético dodged a couple of bullets in Granada, sneaking away from Andalusia with three points and clinging on to their La Liga title-winning pipe dream.
As much as Atleti talk about respecting their opponents and insist on taking the domestic competition one-match at a time, it did seem like our Colchoneros may have underestimated their adversaries, particularly in a frustrating first half.
Overwhelmed by El Graná’s attack and really having no response to their hosts’ pressure on all sectors of the pitch, especially on the flanks, los Rojiblancos repeatedly failed to organise themselves in a congested midfield and all paths to focal point Falcao were obstructed.
Atleti boss Diego Simeone wisely introduced Diego Costa and Koke shortly after the break, and the super subs changed the face of the game–which had started off almost as twisted as Gil Marín’s.
A brilliant goal by Arda got us into a nice groove for about 10 minutes, but we lived out a tense final 20 following Mario Suárez’ dismissal for a second yellow.
Alas, the referee’s whistle blew and the points were in the bag, taking us to 31 for the season–our best start in our glorious 109-year history and fastest to 10 wins, surpassing the mighty 1995/96 Doblete side that had 9 wins and 3 draws after 12 matches.
Next up on the agenda is Hapoel Tel Aviv, who visit the Vicente Calderón on Thursday. A win or draw over the Israeli outfit sees us through to the knockout phase of the Europa League, but the Rojiblanco faithful’s attention is likely fixed squarely on our upcoming clashes with our two most-hated rivals.
On Sunday, we welcome Sevilla to the Calderón. Plagued by inconsistency, Míchel’s men have nonetheless managed to remain in the top half of the table and absolutely pounded derby foes Betis 5-1 this weekend.
We haven’t been able to vanquish the Nervionenses in our last six match-ups against them, including our Copa del Rey Final defeat in 2010.
While a triumph over Sevilla would certainly be wonderful, it may not be an exaggeration to suggest an upset of Real Madrid at the Bernabéu 13 years since our last win over los Merengues, would be greater than anything we’ve experienced in the past decade–European cups included.
One game at a time though, right?
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “The team’s second half reaction is the most important thing to take from this game”
Atlético went into the locker room at the half with a lot of uncertainty, but fans were confident that ‘El Cholo’ could whip his hombres into shape after they survived into half time without having conceded.
“We knew what was going to happen in the first half and we could not control it,” Simeone confessed in his post-game press conference.
“Granada played a great first half, with aggressiveness, intensity and winning rebounds and creating a lot of danger from the left and through the middle. They didn’t have many clear goal scoring chances, but they did look the superior team as the game developed.”
The Argentine tactician continued, explaining his decision-making process at the interval: “We spoke in the dressing room and we determined how we had to approach the rest of the game.
“Diego Costa’s presence helped us have more outlets going forward and gave us a better chance of fighting for loose balls, something the nature of the game called for. That’s when the quality of players like Koke and Arda appeared and they were able to complete a great counterattack that helped us take the match.”
Arda does it all
First Arda copped Falcao’s hairstyle, then he stole the Colombian’s goal scoring skills. But not before Sunday night’s hero spectacularly slid in to get a crucial deflection of Granada’s on-loan winger Torje’s dangerous shot that luckily bounded off the goal post in our ugly opening 45 minutes.
Our Turkish warrior showed no signs of fatigue from his midweek outing with his national team.
The 25-year-old picked up his fourth goal of the season, three of those strikes taking place away from the Calderón and all of them coming in league play.
Arda now has more goals than he scored throughout all of the previous campaign, his first in red and white, and is fast approaching his best output in a single term when he tallied eight league goals and two in European action with Galatasaray in 2008/09, Atlético’s official site reports.
Koke honours his middle name once again
“The game got a bit complicated with Mario’s dismissal, but the team brought out its claws, with each one of us supporting our mates more and we were able to take the match,” said Jorge Resurrección Merodio, better known as Koke or ‘Georgie Resurrection’, who provided the assist on Arda’s goal.
The beloved Atleti youth product now has three assists on the season (2 in La Liga, 1 in Europa League).
Costa steps up big
As soon as Diego Costa overcame the equipment issues that left Atleti with 10-men to start the second half — making his way onto the pitch well after the whistle had blown to signal the restart — the big man made his presence felt, heavily involving himself in our attack, unlike the practically invisible Adrián he replaced.
The Brazilian characteristically tussled with defenders, messily flopping his limbs about, and aggressively used his body as both weapon and shield to effectively keep possession of the ball and win multiple free kicks for us in advanced positions.
It was a memorable performance for the forward, who kick-started the play that led to our lone, match-winning goal. His showing was the type that could earn the 24-year-old a starting job in the near future.
Elusive number 50 for Falcao
‘El Tigre’ has now gone three games without a goal, a legitimate drought for the lethal Colombian who remains at 49 goals in 62 matches while donning our stripes. The Granada faithful’s chants of his name during warm-ups in appreciation for his goal against Villarreal last season, which saved our hosts from relegation, weren’t enough to give him a boost.
Falcao had recently lauded former Racing Santander and current Granada goalkeeper Toño, hailing him as the toughest goalie he’s had to face so far.
While our leading scorer put three past Toño at home against Racing last season, the ‘keeper heroically kept a clean sheet in a nine-save performance when we visited Santander back in February. The two were seen chummily talking to each other after the game and seemed to have agreed to switch shirts.
Perhaps Toño got in Falcao’s head, as the striker was way off his game again. Or perhaps — literally — Soldado got in his head. The Golden Tiger hasn’t been the same since being stomped on by the Valencia — again, in literal terms — hitman.
“Those of us who were on the pitch are perfectly aware of how tough this game was. We picked up three very important points today, points that we value more than ever because we know what happened to us last season, when we hardly ever won matches away from home.” – Filipe Luís
- Thibaut Courtois made a colossal point blank save to deny El-Arabi at the 30-minute mark en route to his fifth shutout of the season. It was the young Belgian’s third clean sheet against Granada, who have never scored against him.
- Miranda is the only player to have taken part in every minute of all of our league games this season so far, and turned in another very solid performance along with his partner in the centre of our defence Diego Godín.
- As pointed out by Vavel, Atleti have more points than Premiere League leaders Manchester City, who have 28; one point less than Juventus, who have 32 having played one more match than us; and the same exact record as Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich (10 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss).
- Mario’s red card was our first of the season. The midfielder will serve his suspension next weekend when we host Sevilla.
- Filipe, Gabi and Miranda are all in danger of missing out on the derby, as they are all on four yellows.