With just the right amount of suspense, Atlético made it three-for-three to start the present term by besting fellow Champions League contenders Real Sociedad 2-1 in the Basque Country on Sunday.
Back when Neptune famously carried Diego Simeone into the Vicente Calderón on his triumphal chariot circa December 2011, Atleti had been mired in an abysmal slump on the road.
Los Colchoneros were the worst travelling team in all of Europe under Gregorio Manzano’s short-lived command.
Such was the state of affairs in Rojiblanco land, that even after a very promising start to Simeone’s tenure, incredulous fans beseeched the Argentine tactician to end the massive leak of points away from home and turn them into full-fledged believers of the ‘Way of Cholo’.
Since then, Atleti have of course hauled in three trophies and put together a title-worthy league campaign last season.
Now, no ground is safe from the red and white wrath. Right Real Madrid?
Sunday’s victory in San Sebastián, where the Txuri-Urdin hadn’t lost in 17 games, brought our undefeated away streak up to 14 matches in all competitions, one shy of the club record achieved in 1985.
A bid at history will have to wait though, as our next journey won’t be for about another three weeks, when we head out to Valladolid.
Before then, we have a weekend of FIFA action — just when we were all settling into our Atleti routines — followed by back-to-back bouts at the Calderón to host Almería, and then to welcome our first Champions League foes, Zenit St. Petersburg, to Cholo Castle.
If you thought we were strong on the road…
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “We try to play every encounter as if it were the last”
“The team came out very well in an important match,” Diego Simeone said in his post-game press conference, before admitting that, in his men’s “best moment”, when they had the game “under control”, a second of inattention “could have complicated the result more.”
The 43-year-old was referring to Xabi Prieto’s splendid strike that almost turned the match on its head when Atleti were seemingly coasting to the triumph thanks to goals by David Villa and Koke.
Cholo’s men blinked, and former Merengue Esteban Granero exploited–feeding an unchallenged Prieto in the box that the veteran playmaker smashed beyond Thibaut’s reach to bring his club to within one.
“One expects the best and works hard towards that,” said Simeone, who starred for Atlético as a player in 1995–the last time the capital outfit won their first three Primera matches.
“We find ourselves with tough opponents, especially in away games. It’s a delight to watch [Real Sociedad] play. We knew that any situation in which we lost our concentration, we could suffer, because they have a good team and are going to compete for the best spots.”
The mastermind behind Atleti’s resurgence explained that, in order to win, it was critical to “close down the paths that could have made things hard.
“We let them start their play from the right flank because of Carlos Martínez and Estrada’s absence, and when we’d attack, it was clear where we had to go through.”
Third time’s a charm for Villa
Simeone called it.
Last weekend, the Rojiblanco boss quickly dismissed questions about David Villa’s account in La Liga, which stood at zero following our thrashing of Rayo.
“He’s getting chances and, eventually, he’ll score them,” Cholo predicted.
The 31-year-old forward fired off several close warning shots Sunday night before finally finding the back of the net on his fourth attempt on target.
It took Villa three outings to bag his first league goal with Atleti–one more than Falcao and Torres, the same amount as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” (okay, fine–Sergio Agüero) and one less than Forlán.
The Spain international also added a lovely assist* on our second goal.
If you were concerned, we hope you’ve since realised it was a bit silly to worry about ‘El Guaje’s’ performance in the league while blatantly ignoring his spectacular volley against Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
“I’m very happy, most of all, because of the work performed by the team,” Villa said after the game.
“I’m very comfortable in the team and, hopefully, I will get better each time. When I put on the Atleti shirt I said I was coming here to help my teammates and I hope to continue doing so.
“It is fundamental to create chances. In the end, they’ll start going in.”
Villa has now scored in 11 consecutive Liga seasons, more than any other active player. (COPE)
The sky’s the limit for Koke
Atleti homegrown starlet Koke, back in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain call-up along with Villa and Mario, cracked in a dynamite goal after some magnificent work by Diego Costa and Villa–*the Asturian making a sensational effort to cross the ball back into ‘Georgie Resurrection’s’ direction.
It was the 21-year-old’s first goal since January and his eighth as a member of Atlético’s first team (82 appearances).
“Very happy about my first goal of the season and about picking up three points at a difficult ground. Now, my mind is on La Selección.” – Koke, via Twitter
Courtois called to action late and delivers like a boss
All right Thibaut, we get it: you’re a phenom. Now you’re just showing off.
As if he needed to tack on more legendary saves to his already decorated career at Atleti, our Belgian ‘White Chocolate’ literally single-handedly secured the points with two extraordinary last minute stops.
“When you’re up 2-1 you just know the shots are coming, and you have to stay focussed,” Courtois said.
“I was well-positioned and had good reflexes. In the end, even they congratulated me for the saves.”
- Though Diego Costa played in a nice pass into the box finished by Villa to open the scoring in the first half, he was not credited with an assist as the ball was first misplayed by La Real centre-back Ansotegui.
- Spain international Mario Suárez made his 150th appearance in La Liga on Sunday (90 with Atlético and 60 with Mallorca). The defensive midfielder has taken part in 75 wins, 33 draws, and 41 losses, and has scored 8 goals in Primera. (InfoAtleti)
- Keep your eyes open on Atleti’s wheeling and dealings on Monday, the last day of the summer transfer window. The club has already parted ways with newcomer Martín Demichelis, as the defender was tempted by a better offer from Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City. The Argentine’s sudden departure without suiting up in official play with Atleti gave way to hundreds of ironic messages of appreciation for the player’s services on various social media platforms under the hashtag #GraciasDemichelis (“Thank You Demichelis”), even including a video tribute created by our very own Atleti insider Dani Hidalgo.
- In Hidalgo’s more serious work, the AS journalist reported on the club’s signing of 22-year-old defensive midfielder Josuha Guilavogui, who reportedly signed a five-year contract with the club on Sunday after passing a medical. The Spanish media claim Atleti will pay AS Saint-Étienne €10 million for the French international. This news came a day after Atlético brought in defender Toby Alderweireld from Ajax. Neither move has been made official by the club yet.
- Will Adrián leave? Reports out of Spain suggested the former Deportivo could be set to join former Colchonero Falcao in Monaco. Apparently, Atleti have agreed to a loan deal with the Principality outfit for the striker, but would only complete the move if a replacement is found on time.
- For the first time in La Liga history, four teams have won their first three matches (Barça, Atlético, Villarreal and Real Madrid. (COPE)