Atlético picked up their 14th straight win and eighth consecutive shutout at the Vicente Calderón in league play with their hard-fought 1-0 triumph over Espanyol on Sunday.
With 56 points in the bag in the present campaign and 13 games left on the calendar, Atleti have already equalled their points haul from last season.
After Falcao had drawn first blood, well, more accurately, second blood (he had already accidentally split Espanyol goalkeeper Casilla’s lip so badly it required a couple of staples) by converting a penalty in the 38th minute won yet again by Diego Costa, Gabi was sent off moments before the first half came to a close.
But with Koke dropping back in the second half to fill the void left by the Atleti captain’s harsh dismissal, and Costa – who already counts as two players – having cloned himself at the break, los Rojiblancos turned in a fist-pumpingly gutsy performance and were able to fend off their opponents until the final whistle blew.
Such was the best side in Madrid’s determination to secure the result that anyone who had tuned in after the break would have guessed los Periquitos were the team down a man.
A little more precision by ‘El Tigre’ or the rest of the vaunted red and white attack could have settled the affair sooner; instead, the suspense was drawn out to the very end.
No matter. This bout was just a warm-up for the thrill of our hombres’ upcoming trip to Sevilla, where they’ll be protecting a 2-1 lead from the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.
Real Madrid eked out a victory in A Coruña on Saturday, so we maintain our four-point lead over our third-place eternal rivals.
Málaga meanwhile, were crushed 3-0 by Betis in Sevilla, giving Diego Simeone’s men a 14-point advantage over the team with the most realistic shot at bumping us out of the spots for direct qualification into the Champions League.
We’ll get a chance to expand that huge advantage over Manuel Pellegrini’s men when we visit La Rosaleda next Sunday.
Shhh…do you hear that?
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone praises his men one-by-one
“Once again, I feel great joy about the team’s response,” Atleti boss Diego Simeone said in his post-game press conference.
“The first half had been a good one and we got on track to win. After the dismissal, we had Costa on the left so that he’d have good diagonal runs, with Arda on the other flank.
“The effort was extraordinary. “
Simeone continued: “We responded fantastically [after Gabi’s red]. Our centre-backs were exceptional. Falcao did really well. Tiago showed commitment and organised the whole team. Arda offered his talent. The fullbacks knew just how to defend and the substitutes that came in were magnificent. It was a great collective effort.
“To hold off a team like Espanyol, who were coming off a great streak, for 45 minutes is a lot of time.”
‘El Cholo’ then offered words that are a sure bet to strike a chord with the Rojiblanco faithful.
“The team transmitted what has always been the story of this club: an intense, fast and devoted squad.”
Falcao, the spot kick specialist
No other player in Europe’s five biggest leagues has converted as many penalty kicks as Radamel Falcao, Opta reports.
The Colombian’s eighth goal from the spot was his 21st goal in La Liga in the current term, and 26th overall.
Our ferocious feline has now added his name to the scoresheet in our last three games, all victories.
It’s evident that Falcao’s confidence is on an upswing following a quiet couple of weeks relative to his standards, and it should only be a matter of time before he starts banging them in two or three per game.
More Costa please
It’s starting to feel like everything we do in life is just filler for the moments in which Diego Costa gets possession of the ball.
Where to start? The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ does it all.
On Sunday, Costa won a penalty for the fourth time this season when he drew one of his eight fouls suffered throughout the course of the game.
Seven of Javier Aguirre’s men saw yellow on the evening, and that had a lot to do with the Beast’s uncanny ability to retain the ball.
For a guy that, because of one feisty derby performance (okay, okay, and one afroblast in the Czech Republic that saw him get slapped with a four-game ban from UEFA play), would probably be the first name on the tip of the average La Liga spectactor’s tongue if they were to be asked “Who’s the league’s dirtiest player?”, it’s interesting to note that he was a saint against Espanyol, only committing a single, harmless foul.
Simeone and the squad’s captains have done an admirable job at helping Costa learn how to keep his cool; that, combined with his excellent play, should start swaying popular opinion in his favour.
The only thing that matters anyway is that Atleti fans are enraptured by him, and those in attendance greeted him with a standing ovation when he was subbed off in the 88th minute.
“It makes me very happy,” Costa said about the gesture after the game.
“The fans see that I do my job. Things are going well and I thank them.”
Atleti centre-back Miranda, the sheriff of our backline, once again was around to read any trespassers of the red and white fortress their ‘Miranda rights’:
You have the right to remain goalless. Anything you say or do can be used against you at Cholo Castle.
The Brazil international made 12 clearances, while his partner Diego Godín made 10, according to WhoScored. Together, the two helped Courtois keep the shutout intact.
Is there a better defensive duo in La Liga at the moment?
- Thibaut Courtois tacked on yet another clean sheet to his league-high total, and now has 13 to his name. The Belgian wonder ‘keeper is the current leader for Spain’s Zamora Trophy awarded each year by MARCA.
- Gabi’s red card, Atleti’s third in La Liga this season, will prevent our captain from making the trip to Málaga next weekend because of the automatic one-match suspension imposed.
- Birthday boy Mario Suárez, now 26 years old, and Godín, survived another week on four yellows.
- The last 20 league goals scored at the Vicente Calderón have all been by Atlético.