Atlético secured a top-three finish with a sound victory on Wednesday away against Celta, thereby guaranteeing direct qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
The Rojiblancos required only one more victory to ensure they couldn’t be overtaken and they certainly did the business, scoring three times while conceding once in the second half to plunge their Galician hosts into despair.
As per usual in away games, Atlético left it to their opponents to take the initiative in the opening phase at the Balaídos. While this meant the Colchoneros were put under pressure, they were hardly under threat, with Courtois only having to save one fierce, dipping shot from outside the box by left-winger Krohn Deli.
That save came in the 16th minute, one minute before the Belgian custodian broke current Celta coach Abel Resino’s record for the most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal in away games as an Atlético goalkeeper.
Celta’s only other chance of the first half again involved Krohn Deli. The left-winger sent in a cross from the left, which reached Augusto on the right, who cut inside and unleashed a shot, which deflected off Filipe Luís and went wide.
Meanwhile, on the other side, Atleti failed to create any chances in the first half. Through balls and long passes failed to reach their targets, while Koke and Gabi’s set piece deliveries were poor. Passes in the final third were inaccurate and therefore easy to intercept for the Celta defence.
In the second half, the Rojiblancos decided to turn on the heat at their opponents. Only two minutes in, Miranda flicked on Koke’s corner kick for Diego Costa to head in the 0-1 from close range.
Now in the lead, Atleti started to come into stride, launching many counter attacks, but again being let down by bad final balls, crosses and cut backs.
Nevertheless, in the 66th minute, one poor move did result in the 0-2 for the Colchoneros. Adrián dribbled into the opposition box from the left and misdirected his cut back for Falcao. The ball reached Diego Costa who squared it for Juanfran. The right back’s shot deflected off Celta centre-back Roberto Lago’s back and left goalie Javi Varas without a chance to stop it.
With Atleti having doubled their lead, manager Diego Simeone substituted Arda Turan for Diego Costa, giving the Turkish midfielder his second cameo appearance since his return from injury. A couple minutes later, Cholo also brought on Cebolla in place of Koke.
The Rojiblancos remained in control of the game, keeping possession comfortably and creating opportunities, which only lacked the right final balls to become proper chances. This left Falcao visibly frustrated at times.
Then, against the run of play, Celta scored the 1-2 in the 84th minute, courtesy of some unusually bad goalkeeping by Courtois. The Belgian punched substitute De Lucas’ shot straight to Augusto, whose shot he then let slip under his body and into goal.
But any hopes the Galicians had of a comeback were crushed by Falcao in the 86th minute. Filipe Luís dribbled past a number of opposing players before giving the ball to the Colombian, who passed it on to Cebolla. The Uruguayan made his way through the Celta defence before returning the ball to Falcao, who scored the 1-3 from close range.
Atleti could have added even more goals to their tally. Some beautiful combination between Arda and Cebolla unfortunately wasn’t rewarded with the goal it deserved, as the Turk hit the post, while Falcao couldn’t get Gabi’s cross on target with his raised foot.
But the job is done. With a top three finish guaranteed, the Colchoneros can now prepare for their only remaining objective, the final of the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid, next week.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Adrián, Gabi, Mario (“45 Tiago), Koke (“75 Cebolla); Diego Costa (“67 Arda) and Falcao
Goals: 0-1 Diego Costa (“47); 0-2 Juanfran (“66); 1-2 Augusto (“84); 1-3 Falcao (“86)