Atlético bounced back big from last weekend’s defeat to La Real with a 2-0 shutout on the road at Osasuna on Sunday.
Los Rojiblancos (or Negrazulirojos) came out to the pitch of the Reyno de Navarra clad in the whimsical colour scheme of some creature out of a tropical rainforest: black top, blue shorts and red socks.
While Vicente Calderón was turning in his grave courtesy of his beloved club’s fashion abomination, Diego Simeone’s men spent the first half hour of the affair sitting back and absorbing the mild pressure offered by their foes, content with blasting balls to no man’s land and presenting no real attack threat of their own.
But Atleti finally broke the deadlock in the 35th minute off a sensationally executed counterattack reminiscent of the golden days of Kun and Forlán.
The squad were lacking the combination play ‘Cholo’ had called for after the loss to Real Sociedad, until Arda suddenly recovered a loose ball in our own box and passed it forward to Falcao, who one-touched it back to Gabi. ‘El Capi’ then found Koke on a brilliantly-timed run. The Atleti youth product slid a square ball into a charging Diego Costa and ‘The Beast’ tapped a one-time shot saved by Rojillo goalkeeper Andrés, but was fortunate to find the ball teed up nicely in line with his lush ‘fro.
Arda-to-Falcao-to-Gabi-to-Koke-to-the Beast. Goal!
The strike turned the match on its head and even our severely mismatching kits started to grow on the Colchonero faithful. Okay, maybe not so much.
Right after the break, the Koke-Costa connection proved fruitful once again–this time off a free-kick bulldozed in by the Brazilian.
Our league-best defence, aided by a splendid Courtois and patched up by a solid Cata Díaz, kept the Rojillos at bay as we coasted to victory.
The triumph was Atleti’s sixth away from the Vicente Calderón–two more road wins than we tallied all of last season.
The three points brought us all the more closer to a Champions League berth, and inched us back to within a point from second-place Real Madrid.
The league will now be interrupted by a two-week international break before we return to the capital to host Valencia.
Atleti will go into that match with a 15-point lead over the fifth-place Che, but the clash, as always between these two sides, promises to be a cracker.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone victorious in 50th league match at the helm of Atleti
Cholo Simeone celebrated his 50th league match in command at Atleti in style, his record as a Primera División coach improving to 29 wins, 10 draws and 11 losses.
“We’re happy with the players’ effort,” the Atleti boss said in his post-game press conference.
“It wasn’t a simple game. We had to know how to play at this ground. If you don’t play the match the way you have to, you have a higher chance of losing than of winning and the team were aware, from the first minute, of how they had to take on opponents like Osasuna.”
He continued: “We made the most of the opportunities we had and that resulted in a second half in which we could have resolved the match better had we been more decisive with our chances.
“The game was never decided. They had a lot of chances, especially on corners, and particularly on one occasion in the first half that Courtois did well to deny.
“Every time the team wins without conceding a goal, it’s a positive sign.”
‘The Beast’ a handful for los Rojillos
The forward came to the rescue on an evening in which Atleti’s offense lacked clarity, bagging a brace in his 100th match in Spain’s top flight and his 50th as a Colchonero.
Costa now has as many league goals in 2013 as strike partner Falcao (four), and one more than the Colombian superstar in all competitions since the New Year with eight to ‘El Tigre’s’ seven.
The 24-year-old, who has suited up for six different clubs since his arrival in Spain in 2007, has finally staked a claim to a starting job at Atlético and has netted eight goals in his last ten appearances, and has 15 overall in the present campaign.
“I had the luck of scoring two goals in a very good match,” Costa told Atleti’s official site after the game.
Later in the evening, ‘The Beast of the Manzanares’ made a brief appearance on COPE, telling the Spanish radio station “Atleti will keep fighting Real for second place”.
He then responded to questions about his controversial playing style.
“I’m going to continue playing the way I do. I know everyone is looking at me, but what can I do?”
In spite of the knock he sustained, Costa is reportedly still expected to travel to Switzerland to meet up with the Brazilian national team ahead of friendlies against Italy (in Geneva) and Russia (in London).
“[Costa] is in a moment of great form. We try to take advantage of the strength he offers us nestled on the left wing. Hopefully he can continue growing. He must convince himself he has the weapons to do so.” – ‘Cholo’ Simeone
Koke continues to impress in breakout season
While not being credited with an assist on our first goal, Koke was able to find Costa again after lobbing a free-kick into the six-yard box three minutes after the re-start.
The 21-year-old midfielder now has eight assists (seven in La Liga) in his extraordinary breakout season, and has developed quite a connection with the Beast. Four of his seven assists in league play have been to Costa, so it’s obvious the two have slightly more chemistry than Diego Forlán and Quique Sánchez Flores did.
The Atleti youth academy jewel offered some kind words for the man of the night.
“[Costa’s] extremely focussed and deeply involved,” he said.
“We have to keep taking advantage of him because he’s at a spectacular level of form and that is beneficial to all of us. Diego helps us do things well and all 11 of us try to do a good job on the pitch.”
Vintage ‘Thibauting’ in Pamplona
Thibaut Courtois was called to action often at the Reyno de Navarra, and responded very sharply en route to a well-deserved 19th shutout of the season and 15th in La Liga.
The 20-year-old’s five-save performance kept him at the top of the Zamora Trophy standings as he is the goalkeeper with the lowest conceded goals-to-games ratio in La Liga.
The rumour mill in Spain suggests the Belgian wonder may be back for a third year on-loan from Chelsea next season, which would undoubtedly be great news for the growth of the club under Simeone.
- Atlético have conceded the fewest amount of goals in La Liga (24).
- Juanfran was booked for the fifth time this season and will be suspended when we welcome Valencia to the Calderón in a fortnight. Atlético B right-back Manquillo is expected to fill in for the former Osasuna man.
- Arda was deployed on the right-wing and while the majority of our attacks (51% according to WhoScored) came from the left once again, our counter to open the scoring came from the right and started at the feet of our Turkish warrior. With Arda maintaining his positioning on the right flank, he successfully provided cover on defense for Juanfran, preventing Osasuna from sneaking in from our weak side like La Real had successfully done so last Sunday.
- After having found the back of the net in four straight matches, Falcao is now on a three-game goal-scoring drought. “You’re happy about the victory but you feel like something is missing. Strikers live off of goals and if you don’t score, you feel like you owe something,” the Colombian had confessed during his television appearance on Antena 3 at the midweek. After the game against Osasuna, ‘El Tigre’ very enthusiastically tweeted: “A huge victory tonight! Great team effort to achieve the 3 points!! Have a good night and sleep tight!”
- Atleti internationals: Filipe Luís and Diego Costa (Brazil friendlies against Italy and Russia); Diego Godín and ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez (Uruguay World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Chile); Falcao (Colombia World Cup Qualifiers against Bolivia and Venezuela); Thibaut Courtois (Belgium World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia, home and away); Arda (Turkey World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary); Koke (U-21 Spain friendlies against Norway and Russia).
- Simeone’s remarkable start in charge of Atlético is the club’s fourth best after 50 games, Pedro Martín reports (1. Zamora: 32W, 7D, 11L; 2. Marcel Domingo: 29W, 11D, 10L; 3. Antić: 29W, 11D, 10L).