Atlético swept aside Levante at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday, but a Falcao injury that may keep ‘El Tigre’ sidelined for up to three weeks cast a dark cloud over the victory.
Despite the grim news, there was still plenty to smile about in Colchonero land.
The triumph over Juan Ignacio Martínez’ men was the Rojiblancos’ 15th in La Liga this season, equaling the club’s total from the entirety of their previous campaign…and the second half has only just begun!
The win was Atleti’s 18th on the trot at their home stadium and 10th straight clean sheet — a club record — at the Manzanares River bend.
The Rojiblanco stronghold has assumed powers of mythical proportions, and the legend of ‘Cholo Castle’ has made its way across the pond (we’re not kidding, listen to English-language football commentator Ray Hudson, an apparent AtléticoFans reader, talk about our fortress on beIN Sport (USA) here).
The victims of Cholo Castle this season (may they rest in Peace): La Liga: Athletic† (4-0), Valladolid† (2-1), Rayo† (4-3), Málaga† (2-1), Osasuna† (3-1), Getafe† (2-0), Sevilla† (4-0), Deportivo† (6-0), Celta† (1-0), Zaragoza† (2-0) and Levante† (2-0); Copa del Rey: Jaén† (1-0), Getafe† (3-0) and Betis† (2-0); Europa League: Académica† (2-1), Viktoria Plzen† (1-0) and Hapoel† (1-0).
On the agenda for Simeone’s hombres is a trip to Sevilla Thursday for the return leg of our Copa del Rey quarter-final match-up with Betis, which we lead 2-0.
Then on Sunday we head north to Basque Country to square off against Athletic Bilbao at San Mámes.
We’ll enter that league match eight points from first place, as we inched a little closer to our direct rivals and losers at the weekend Barcelona.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone insists he has no interest in club records or table-watching
“We played a very intelligent game,” Diego Simeone said of Sunday’s encounter.
“We tried to win space without rushing ourselves and obviously the wings were fundamental. We needed to break through deep in the box because our opponents work well there and it’s not easy to penetrate.
“We achieved that with the play of Tiago and Manqillo, for example. We did it and that allowed us to enter the box with numbers.”
With regard to Falcao’s injury, the Atlético idol and head coach said: “I’m not a doctor, but he’ll be out for about 20 to 25 days.”
While Cholo certainly is no doctor, it’s safe to say most Atleti fans would trust him to perform brain surgery on them any day over a surgeon. At the very least, they’d want him present to oversee procedure.
“[Falcao] will rest and he’ll be fine for further ahead.”
Asked to comment on all the records his team is breaking, the 42-year-old tactician reiterated his statements from Saturday’s pre-game press conference.
“The numbers are important but we don’t stop to observe them,” he said before breaking into what has long since become Cholo cliché:
“Now we have a very tough match in Sevilla and the only thing we have to think about is that game. Stopping to look at the numbers wouldn’t be good for the team. Game-by-game we’ll see how far we can make it.”
Adrián pays back vote of confidence from his coach
Any time Cholo decides to mix things up with the line-up, the pre-game shudders are palpable. What! Why aren’t Costa and Arda playing? many asked when the starting XI was unveiled on Sunday to reveal Adrián and ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez were in the fold in place of the Brazilian and Turkish stars.
Like a painkiller working its way into the system, blind faith in Simeone quickly alleviates the uncertainty.
And so it was, when Adrián opened up the scoring against the Granotes, that Cholo had struck gold again.
“Adrián is important for us,” Simeone said after the game of the Asturian striker, who didn’t see a minute of action against Betis at the midweek.
“Everyone knows how I feel about him, and the only thing left is for him to prove himself on the pitch. We are in need of his play and quality, because he is a player that, in the final metres, breaks through very well.”
The goal, which was the result of a sensational pass from Tiago to Manquillo that the Atlético B full-back one-timed across Gustavo Munuá for Adrián to bang home, was the 25-year-old’s fourth of the season (three in league play, one in Copa del Rey).
Could the former Deportivo man finally be turning over a new leaf? Let’s hope so given that he may be our only forward available on Valentine’s Day when Rubin Kazan visit the Calderón in Europa League knockout play because of Costa’s four-game UEFA ban and Falcao’s knock.
Koke delivers dazzling performance and wondergoal
For about an hour of play, midfielder Koke, displaying great composure and exuding confidence throughout, spent the match so high up the pitch that he was essentially playing as a second forward.
It was precisely at the hour mark when the 20-year-old made his case for striker consideration by deftly and oh-so-lusciously curling in a one-two pass from Costa over Munúa, the ball ever-so-gently caressing the back of the net for his third goal of the season (all in La Liga and all assisted by Costa).
When Gabi came off in the 66th minute, Koke was deployed in his natural, deeper midfield role.
We’ve heaped loads of praise on the Atlético youth product all season long, and there’s no reason to believe that will not continue to be the case for the next 15 years.
“He’s grown so much since we got here and we have a lot of faith in his play. He’s an important player for us.” –Simeone, speaking about Koke in his post-game press conference
18-year-old Manquillo shines in first ever league start
It came as a pleasant surprise to learn that a generally conservative Simeone had chosen to go with Atlético B right-back Javi Manquillo from the start of proceedings on Sunday.
The 18-year-old, called-up to replace an injured Juanfran, passed the trial-by-fire test with flying colours. The Madrid-born full-back even bagged his first assist on Adrián’s goal.
But ‘SuperMan-quillo’, as one Atleti fan cleverly referred to him as, refused to gloat about that pass.
“The important thing wasn’t the assist on Adrián’s goal, rather, it was that the team won and we picked up the three points,” he told the club’s official site.
“I will continue working with Atlético B and be ready when Cholo needs me.”
Manquillo was appreciative of the support of his older team-mates and admitted that he got emotional when he heard the crowd chanting his name.
“It was so special and it gave me goosebumps,” he said.
“That makes you feel so proud of being a part of Atlético Madrid. It’s much more than a dream for me.”
“Today Boy-quillo becomes a Man-quillo.” –Dani Hidalgo of Diario AS
It was evident from the way Falcao immediately went to the ground, grasping his upper-left hamstring in the 57th minute, that his injury was a serious one.
While the club have yet to confirm the severity of the strain, if Cholo’s estimate of a 20 to 25-day recovery period has any basis in fact, ‘El Tigre’ could miss between five to six games (Betis Away, Copa Quarter-finals; Athletic Bilbao Away, Liga; Betis at Home, Liga; Rayo Away, Liga; Rubin Kazan at Home, Europa League Second Round; Valladolid Away, Liga).
- Thibaut Courtois keeps adding up the shutouts and now has 10 clean sheets in La Liga this season and 14 overall. The young Belgian’s sensational sophomore campaign with Atleti has given rise to a new trend called Thibauting, which began as an Atleti-version of Tebowing started by someone who obviously has way too much time on his hands.
- Less than half a game was all Diego ‘the Beast of the Manzanares’ Costa needed to tally his 4th assist of the season.
- Gabi was booked for the 5th time in La Liga and will be suspended for our trip to Bilbao next weekend.
- Filipe, Mario Suárez and Costa are all on four yellows.
- Atleti tied their home win streaks in all competitions of 12 games in a row achieved in both the 1939/40 and 1940/41 seasons. In both of those campaigns, the Red and Whites won La Liga. (@forzaatletico)
- Opta reported prior to this match that Atleti have scored more set piece goals than any other top-flight team this season (18).