Sunday night’s 1-0 victory over Betis will go down as the night Diego Simeone unleashed ‘the Beast’.
After failing to capitalise on a very lively start, Atleti’s play drifted into a state of tedium.
Starting strikers Radamel Falcao and Adrián were finding it very difficult to get meaningfully involved in the game. The Asturian was deployed in a more advanced position up top, but his sophomore campaign in red and white continues to be an unmitigated disaster.
The Verdiblancos were fortunate their Adrián showed up, as the goalkeeper was very active in the early goings, making several key saves that kept his side in the match into half time.
Desperate for a spark, the Rojiblanco faithful unanimously clamoured for Diego Costa to be let loose. 10 minutes after the break, they got their wish.
Like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Simeone opened up the Ark of the Covenant to release hellfire upon our opponents by introducing the human wrecking ball that is Costa.
The Brazilian’s entry paid immediate dividends. After just three minutes of terrorising, he created a clear chance for Koke inside the box that the Atleti youth product, under some pressure, sent skyward.
Two minutes after that, he headed in the match-winning goal.
With the triumph, los Colchoneros reached the 50-point mark. It was their 16th win of the season, one more than they tallied in the entirety of the previous term.
Simeone’s men have racked up 20 straight victories at the Vicente Calderón in all competitions and have secured 36 of 36 points up for grabs at ‘Cholo Castle’ in the 2012/13 campaign.
Atleti moved to within nine points of league-leaders Barcelona, and restored their lead over third place Real Madrid to seven points.
The gap between us and our closest contenders for a Champions League berth spot — our opponents on the evening Betis — increased to a seemingly insurmountable 15 points.
Following the midweek round of international action, our hombres will get a chance to end their road slump next weekend when they face off against Rayo in Vallecas.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “Atleti fans should feel proud of their players”
“In the first half there were no goals because we weren’t precise despite the opportunities we created after a good effort on Thursday,” ‘El Cholo’ said in the post-game press conference.
“It’s spectacular what the players are doing. If I were an Atlético Madrid fan, I’d be very proud of what these guys are doing.
“On Thursday, they played an incredibly intense game and today they played a great match against a high-ranking opponent.”
The fiery Argentine tactician than described his game-changing decision to replace Adrián with Costa.
“At the half, I felt it was Diego’s time,” he said.
“I wanted him fresh for 30 minutes because the important thing is the quality, not the quantity of minutes.”
He continued: “When Diego went in, the team had a different pace, they found the goal and what I thought was the best thing was that we defended farther away from where he had been.
“When we get a lead, we tend to bury ourselves deep in the back and today, the team defended closer to midfield.”
Beast unleashed or: How Diego Costa impacted the game
The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ is quickly gaining a notorious reputation, which for Atleti, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Diego Costa was recently described as “horrifying to have to face” by Betis boss Pepe Mel, words that proved prophetic on Sunday.
The 24-year-old drew first blood with a header at about the hour mark, his 11th overall goal of the season, and then proceeded to raise hell.
The final half hour of the clash turned into Costa versus Betis, the encounter getting increasingly scrappier by the minute. The striker didn’t help matters by recklessly stamping Rubén Pérez and getting booked as a result.
From there on out Betis’ players’ only objective was to get Costa sent off. Miraculously, despite being roughed up, having his ear tugged, and even getting spat on by Antonio Amaya, he somehow kept his cool and avoided seeing red, though he will be suspended for our upcoming trip to Vallecas with five yellows.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is a fan of Diego Costa’s antics. Well-respected tactical analyst Michael Cox, the creator of the reputable football tactics website Zonal Marking, had this to say about our man:
“He’s an alright player but he’s a sneaky little cheat and he makes games scrappy, aggressive, stop-start and horrible to watch.”
Pepe Mel meanwhile, lauded Costa once again after doing so on Saturday.
“I think Diego Costa is a magnificent footballer that I would like to have on my team,” Mel said after his side’s loss.
“We don’t have any problems with Diego Costa and recognise him for the great footballer that he is,” he concluded.
Struggling Adrián will continue to get chances
With regard to Adrián’s inclusion in the starting XI, Cholo explained:
“The only way players can get back in form is by playing. I will continue to insist with Adrián because he’s an important player on our team.”
Simeone really won’t have much of a choice when it comes to playing the 25-year-old, as Costa faces five games of suspension–our next one in La Liga at Rayo, and four more in Europa League action.
Cisma unexceptional, but competent…enough
Though Domingo Cisma adequately filled in for suspended left back Filipe Luís, the Brazil international’s absence was notable.
While Filipe bravely takes on opposing defenders, routinely fighting his way through with the ball all the way to the goal line before hitting in a cross, Cisma, in the few situations he managed to make it into the attacking third, would hit the brakes immediately at the edge of the box and look to dish out a short pass to a nearby teammate.
The Spaniard is certainly more effective overall than Cata Díaz out wide, but many will be eager to get a glimpse of new signing Emiliano Insúa, unavailable for this game through injury, to see how well he would do in replacement of Filipe.
Mario gets a surprise call from Vicente del Bosque
Mario Suárez had apparently lost his starting spot with Atleti after our trip to the Camp Nou, the midfielder no longer a regular fixture in the fold since that defeat to the Blaugrana.
So it was somewhat of a pleasant surprise to learn the Rojiblanco canterano had been called-up to la Selección on Sunday, a place in Vicente del Bosque’s World and Euro Cup champion outfit opening up because Xabi Alonso was forced to drop out with a knock.
“It was very good news and a very good day,” Mario told Canal Plus following the match.
“I’d like to thank the coach for his faith in me and I hope [Xabi’s injury] isn’t anything serious.”
While Atléticos are always flattered by one of their own taking part with the Spanish national team, the general consensus in Colchonero land is that Gabi was more deserving of Del Bosque’s attention than Mario.
Suárez will travel to Doha, Qatar, where Spain will square off against Uruguay in a friendly on Wednesday and where he’ll take on teammates Diego Godín and ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez.
In addition to that trio of Atleti internationals, Arda Turan (Turkey), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Falcao (Colombia), and Miranda and Filipe (Brazil), have all been tapped for national team duty.
Atleti B players Saúl and Óliver, leading candidates to take over the role abandoned by Emre, have been called-up to Spain’s U-21 side that will play Belgium on Tuesday.
- Atleti starlet Koke bagged his 6th assist of the season and 5th in La Liga.
- Thibaut Courtois extended his La Liga lead in clean sheets this season and now has 11 to his name. The Belgian has 15 shutouts overall in the present campaign.
- Mario Suárez and Diego Godín are on four yellows, one booking away from a one-match suspension.
- Atlético have strung together 13 consecutive home wins in La Liga for the first time in their history.
- Los Rojiblancos haven’t conceded a goal in their last seven league games, their second best such streak ever. In the 1990/91 season, with Abel Resino in goal, the club secured eight straight shutouts at the Calderón, according to Pedro Martin.