Atlético paid the price for their slow start in Vallecas on Sunday, with two first half goals from Rayo settling the affair well before the Rojiblancos even decided to show up for the clash.
With Arda Turan and Diego Godín having played full matches with their respective national teams on Wednesday, Diego Simeone opted to give those two starters a break.
That decision by ‘El Cholo’ simultaneously opened up two doors: one for ‘Cata’ Díaz, who got the nod in the back in place of Godín, and one for Rayo Vallecano to walk right through and collect three points.
Filipe Luís’ lack of faith in Cata — evident from the Brazilian’s central positioning during several of Rayo’s attacks — left the fullback’s flank completely exposed at times, which granted the speedy Lass Bangoura chunks of real estate from which to wreak havoc.
Striker Diego Costa’s ferocious intensity was sorely missed, and it’s a real bummer the ‘Beast’ still faces a four-game ban from UEFA competition just as the Europa League is about to get back in full swing.
But, despite having suffered our second consecutive away loss in La Liga, we retain a comfy 13-point cushion over fifth place Valencia for a Champions League spot.
For those Colchoneros starting to worry the clock is about to strike midnight for us, consider that only four other teams have picked up more points on the road than us: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Málaga and Betis, as Info Atleti pointed out.
Have faith my Rojiblanco brethren. If anyone can solve our traveling issues it’s Cholo, though we can probably expect a difficult trip to Valladolid next weekend after we host Rubin Kazan in Europa League action on Thursday.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone believes his men can learn a lesson from Sunday’s defeat
“We didn’t play a good first half,” Atlético boss Diego Simeone said after his side’s fifth loss in La Liga.
“In the second half, we improved. I think we had chances to get into the encounter earlier, especially Filipe’s chance that the goalkeeper saved. They were superior in the first half and we found ourselves two goals down.”
The Argentine continued, not wanting to single out any of his Catas: “Matches aren’t won or lost because of one player. It’s a collective game. When things go well it’s because of the whole team and when they go poorly there are shared mistakes.
“This will serve to help us improve. We are aware of our difficulties and what we can give. We don’t have a problem with accepting when we play badly or when we have to improve like our first half from this game.”
Simeone congratulated Paco Jémez’ men for going into the bout stronger than Atleti.
“Rayo came into the match well and our opponents must be given credit,” he said.
“They went in better than us, they were more dynamic and practical and they found their goal quickly.”
He continued: “Rayo were better and that’s football. They played great, with a lot of intensity, with fast players on the flanks and attacking well.”
Falcao’s goal little consolation on miserable birthday
Birthday boy Radamel Falcao, who turned 27 on game-day, scored a goal that was mere lipstick on a pig, as the strike came with no time left on the clock.
It was the Colombian’s 23rd goal of the season, and 19th in La Liga.
‘El Tigre’ seemed agitated throughout the course of the game, and even took a page out of the ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ “Official Handbook on How to Troll Defenders”, getting in the face of Rayo’s centre-backs whenever they got a bit too physical.
Crankiness from jet lag? Perhaps. Grumpiness about his troubles in front of goal? More likely. So while his late goal appeared to serve no valuable purpose, hopefully Falcao’s confidence will be given a boost now that he ended his two-month drought on the road.
Óliver Torres finally reappears with the first team
In addition to Falcao finding the back of the net again and ending his goalless streak in away games, pretty much the only other silver lining — thin as it may be — is that cantera starlet Óliver Torres was awarded some playing time with about 10 minutes left to spare.
‘Oli’ showed promising signs six months after having made his only other appearance–our league opener at Levante.
The 18-year-old midfielder came very close to nabbing his first career goal with the first team after dribbling past several Rayo players. Unfortunately, his shot was easily pulled in by Rubén.
Will Cholo ever give Pulido a chance?
Cata’s back-to-back poor showings may offer Cholo a reason to roll the dice on 21-year-old youth academy product Jorge Pulido next time Miranda or Godín need a breather.
While Pulido has started seven games in the current campaign, none have come in league play.
“We know it’s hard to win away from home. We haven’t won an away match in quite some time and we have to resolve this and that’s it. Now, we must focus on Thursday’s game and perform well in the Europa League.” – Koke
- Miranda bagged his first assist in red and white on Falcao’s late goal.
- Diego Godín had started 26 straight league games with Atlético until Sunday.
- Mario Suárez and Godín are on four yellows.