The red and white aftermath: Match Day 17

Atleti cap off extraordinary year with a hard-fought victory over Celta Friday night

godin lifts an ecstatic adrian who scored the match winner against celta vigo on friday

Adrián celebrates cracking match-winning goal (EFE)

With a spectacular goal by Adrián under the Friday night lights of the Vicente Calderón, Atlético avoided a bitter end to an incredible year.

A very bright start for Los Rojiblancos made it seem as if it would only be a matter of time before the floodgates would open and we’d see a spectacle very similar to the six-goal pounding of Deportivo of close to a fortnight ago.

But the Atleti faithful would have to wait until the 77th minute to collectively rejoice.

Los Colchoneros began the bout lined-up in their now-becoming-customary 4-4-2 formation, with Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao up front. That setup was quickly inverted into practically a 2-4-4, with Costa, Falcao, Arda and Koke — supported out wide by Juanfran playing very high up the pitch opposite of an also advanced Domingo Cisma — all searching for ways to pick apart the stalwart Great Wall of Vigo.

It’s hard to point the blame at any of our guys for our inhibited attacking display. If you check down the list of each player one by one, you can make a solid case of a good performance for any one of them.

For large swaths of the proceedings, it appeared Celta Vigo were doing something right. One thing’s for sure: Paco Herrera’s plan of subduing our tiger worked to perfection.

The Celta boss had told reporters prior to the game that his men had to “anticipate Falcao’s movements” and warned that “if they gave him a metre, they’d be plucking the ball out of the back of the net.”

In order to game-plan for Falcao, Celta sacrificed veteran attacker Mario Bermejo in favour of defensive midfielder Natxo Insa, a decision that while effective at the back, left electric striker Iago Aspas stranded in no-man’s land.

Unfortunately for Herrera, despite his men’s commendable achievement of locking down ‘El Tigre’, Adrián, who was unleashed with 20 minutes to spare, pulled a little magic out of the box of charms he’s kept locked up so tightly for most of the season.

Celta ended the clash with zero shots on target in spite of the fact that Atleti finished the game with ten men, including only one natural defender in Diego Godín.

It wasn’t the sexiest of victories but, in the end, Simeone’s men gutted out the result to close out a historic year in second place with 40 points under their belt in the present campaign, a club best after 17 rounds.

It will be hard to top a 2012 of multiple European titles, win streaks and all sorts of broken records, but Champions League qualification, back-to-back Europa League and Super Cup trophies, a Copa del Rey championship, retaining ‘El Cholo’ and keeping all the stars of the squad together for another term wouldn’t be a bad start for 2013.

Post-game notes and quotes:

Simeone bolts for airport, ‘Mono’ Burgos steps in for post-game presser

As soon as the final whistle blew, Simeone took off towards the tunnel before pumping his fists up at the crowd in jubilation. He then began his race to catch his flight to Buenos Aires that was departing within the hour (at 00:35 local time), stopping for no one but celebrating with fans walking through the M30 motorway tunnel that passes under the stands of the Calderón.

‘El Cholo’ has washed and polished an Atleti crest that had been muddied and banged up by a mediocre and inconsistent past couple of years, quickly bringing the club back to its rightful place in Spanish football, with all the glory and prestige of the Rojiblanco days of yore.

The Argentine’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the eyes of global football, and it’s very likely his countryfolk wouldn’t have minded having their flight delayed for a chance to ride alongside a national hero whose mere presence on the aircraft would magically accelerate the plane’s engines and reduce total flight time by at least three hours.

In 58 official matches under Simeone’s command in 2012, Atlético’s record stands at 40 wins, 8 draws and 10 losses (107 goals for and 47 goals against).

Meanwhile, back at the stadium, Germán ‘Mono’ Burgos, Simeone’s second-in-command, stepped in for the post-game press conference.

“Celta’s approach influenced our inability to find paths to create chances to score goals in spite of our best efforts,” the former Atleti goalkeeper said.

“First it was the post and several chances in the first half didn’t go in, but the team looked firm. In the second half, we found the prize.”

Atlético players showed their support for Tito Vilanova prior to the game, bearing t-shirts with a positive message for the Barcelona boss.

When asked about the gesture, Burgos, a cancer survivor himself, said:

“I wish him the best. He’s a brave man that has been through this before. I’ve been through the same thing and surely this is something that will cheer him up. When I was in the same situation, players came to the hospital wearing shirts for me and that is something that cheers you up a lot.

“The club have done very well.”

Adrián ends year the same way it started off for him

The evening didn’t begin too promising at all for Adrián, whose name didn’t appear in the fold once again. The former Deportivo man has lost what, before the season began, was considered an assured spot in the starting XI to Diego Costa.

Looking to inject some life into our tamed attack, Simeone decided to bring on the Asturian forward with less than 20 minutes to go.

Five minutes later, Adrián brilliantly struck a left-footed half-volley — that had luckily resulted from his own errant pass — from outside the box and jackpot. Goal! His third of the season.

The 24-year-old couldn’t contain his pent-up emotions and very enthusiastically (see photo above) celebrated his strike. No surprise there really. He banished a lot of demons with that blast.

“We know Adrián is a great player, and his team-mates welcomed him into the dressing room with cheers and applause,” Mono Burgos said.

“I feel that I’m greatly loved,” the striker told Onda Cero in the press area afterwards.

Speaking to our This is Atleti podcast co-host and producer Ricky Menéndez, Adrián said:

“I’m very happy for having been able to play, for the goal and for being able to help the team.”

When Ricky asked the attacker about why he has declined in form compared to last season, Adrián had a hard time finding a clear explanation.

“I really don’t know,” he said.

“For whatever reason, I’m playing less, I had problems in the beginning with some injuries and, well, the important thing is that now I feel good and when I have to come onto the pitch I’ll try to do the best possible job and help the team however I can.”

Considering that UEFA slapped Diego Costa with a four-game suspension earlier in the week, we could use the best version of Adrián in the rounds of 32 and 16 (should we qualify) of the Europa League and in our quest to finish in the top three places in the league table.

The Vicente Calderón, a veritable fortress

With Friday’s triumph, Atleti stretched their home win streak record to 15 games at the Calderón. They have won all 14 official games disputed there in the current campaign.

The Rojiblanco stadium on the Manzanares River bend averages the third highest attendance in Spain after Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, with a regular crowd of roughly 47,000 Indios according to ESPN.

Atlético have scored the most goals at home (28) in Primera División so far this season and have secured seven shutouts on the trot at their grounds in all competitions.

Iago “Oops I Tried To Take A Free Kick And Fell On My” Aspas complained about the state of the Calderón pitch after the game in the press area.

It’s not the first time the quality of the Rojiblanco stadium’s grass has been called into question. Players from both the home and visiting teams are frequently seen losing their footing throughout matches played at the Atleti stronghold.

Cisma solid in replacement of Filipe

For most of his first season in red and white, Domingo Cisma has honoured his first name, which literally translates to ‘Sunday’–a traditional day of rest.

The former Atlético youth product was handed his first league start in the present term in replacement of an injured Filipe Luís, yet another damning sign for Sílvio.

Overcoming the embarrassment of a horribly botched cross early into the encounter, Cisma played quite decently en route to the shutout.

“I was eager to debut in the league,” the former Racing Santander man said after the match.

“I’ve worked hard for that and when the coach has called for me to play I’ve tried to do so at the best possible level to help the team every way I can.”

Trio of suspensions for 2013 opener in Mallorca

Arda, Falcao and Miranda will all be unavailable for our first game of 2013 on the 6th of January in Mallorca.

All three players will serve a one-match suspension, Arda and Falcao because of five yellows, and Miranda, for having seen red.

Arda was largely responsible for our strong start, creating three quick chances within the first 15 minutes of play, including stealing a ball that resulted in a link-up with Costa that the Brazilian dished off for Koke. The canterano’s shot careened off the inner side of the post.

The Turkey international conjured up his warrior spirit in the second half, fighting hard and helping his men retain possession in a critical final 20 minutes. Arda was almost rewarded with a goal after a sensational run down the back of the line that culminated in a dangerous shot saved by Javi Varas.

Unfortunately, the 25-year-old didn’t learn his lesson from his silly hand ball in the derby, senselessly repeating the mistake on Friday, leading to his fifth booking and automatic one-game ban.

While some wacko on Twitter called for such an extreme measure as chopping off the Turk’s hands, a more sensible approach was suggested by another, obviously more level-headed and reasonable Atlético fan–that of perhaps only eliminating one or two digits from the former Galatasaray man’s hand.

Arda is too crucial a player, as he showed once again with his stellar performance, to be committing these types of costly mental errors.

Falcao a far cry from Chitalu

Our Colombian hitman Falcao, who by his own standards probably wasn’t too pleased with his outing against Celta, nonetheless concluded a remarkable 2012 with 49 goals (44 in 47 matches with Atleti, 5 in 7 matches with Colombia).

Despite finishing well short of Godfrey Chitalu’s 107 in a calendar year and Messi’s 90, the ‘Monster of the Manzanares’ broke Colchonero legend Diego Forlán’s single year record of 28 league goals with Atlético reports COPE‘s Pedro Martín, tallying 32 in Primera action in 2012.

The remaining 12 are broken down as follows: 9 goals in 9 Europa League matches and 3 goals in the Super Cup.

Brace for another long winter of transfer rumours

With incessant rumours about Falcao’s imminent departure making the rounds seemingly every hour, the Rojiblanco faithful should brace for a long winter transfer window.

The latest? In addition to Chelsea’s fantasies of kidnapping our tiger, COPE reported on Friday that the Blues are also after Mario Suárez.

“We closed out a great 2012 with a victory in our house! Thanks to all the fans for the support!” – Falcao

Other notes:

  • With 18 shutouts in 2012, Thibaut Courtois has kept more clean sheets than any other La Liga goalkeeper this year according to sports data company Opta.
  • Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez was instrumental in his return from a hamstring injury suffered against Jaén over three weeks ago, replacing Gabi in the 59th minute.

  • Shlomgar

    That moment you realize your backline is made of one CB, a former Osasuna wide attacker, a former Juve midfield and a wide Uruguayan striker..

  • Gert

    Amazing article Martin!