What can we say? You wait 14 years to win a derby, and suddenly two come along in four months. Both at the Bernabéu.
On Saturday night, Atlético put in perhaps their biggest performance so far under Diego Simeone to beat Real Madrid 1-0, and move five points clear of their local rivals at the top of La Liga in the process.
The stage was meant to be all set for the home side, fresh off of a fortuitous win at plucky Elche, in what was also Gareth Bale’s home debut, but they were quite clearly second best.
The phrase ‘hombres’ was coined after a win against Osasuna back in January 2012 — Cholo’s fourth game in charge at the club — and his charges showed yet another example of their incredible cojones with a massive win.
Before the game, Atleti were dealt a blow as Mario Suárez, known to selectively up his game for big occasions, was ruled out, so Tiago came in to partner Gabi in midfield. Real were without the likes of Xabi Alonso and Marcelo, and also had Bale on the bench, but were still able to boast a multi-million pound attack, midfield, and defence.
With record signing Falcao no longer around, our starting XI cost less than half of Cristiano Ronaldo, who depending on who you believe, is not even the most expensive player in the world anymore.
Stats will show that Real had most of the play, but that’s nothing new for the Rojiblancos, who, on clear-cut chances, could probably have scored three or four times on another day. Ultimately, the only stat that matters is that after May’s famous Copa del Rey triumph, our 14-year winless derby run in the league is now also a thing of the past.
Tactically, Cholo had the team drilled to absolute perfection, and at the moment you really do have to wonder where a defeat is going to come from for this team.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone elated with perfect Atleti
I don’t think anyone would so much as bat an eyelid if Simeone came out and took all the praise himself following such heroics — after all, he deserves it — but as usual, he was quick to pass on the congratulations to his players.
“They played a remarkably good match. From the intensity, to knowing where to hurt [Real Madrid], I must congratulate them because they responded well,” he told reporters in the Bernabéu.
However, again in characteristic fashion, he refused to entertain any suggestions of a title chase, whether he believes that or not. Partido a partido.
“It’d be perfect to talk about La Liga, but over the course of a season, there is a large economic gap. Far superior to the rest of us,” he said. “We try, with our attacking weapons, to leave everything on the pitch every match.”
“I am only going to talk about us. I think we played a great game. From the first player to the 18th, we all knew there was only one option: to win.”
The panther reigns supreme once again in the Bernabéu
Diego Costa is the man on everyone’s lips at the moment, although, perhaps surprisingly, it’s exclusively for footballing reasons. La Pantera‘s 8th goal of the season was enough to win the match, and also keeps him at the top of the Pichichi standings with Lionel Messi.
“Diego [Costa] is one of the hearts of this team, he conveys what the entire team is feeling, and he is a very highly valued member of the squad,” beamed Simeone.
“Of course, he still has much to improve upon, but we all need to grow day-by-day. That’s we are trying to do.”
It wouldn’t be Costa, or indeed, the Madrid derby, without a little madness, though. The Brazilian/Spaniard was shown a yellow card in the second half and nearly made it a red after a confrontation with referee Mateu Lahoz, having also nearly come to blows with Diego López earlier on.
“He handled himself well. If we take away his liveliness, it wouldn’t be him. He fought many players at a higher level than he is, Pepe, Ramos, Khedira… not easy opponents. He is a brave and humble player,” Simeone said regarding his star forward.
The two must be relishing their next trip to the Bernabéu if the last two visits are anything to go by.
Koke/Costa connection continues to flourish
Keeping with the Costa theme (and why not?), his near telepathic understanding with midfield star Koke claimed Real Madrid as its latest victim, the canterano’s delightful through ball pounced upon and finished delightfully in the 11th minute match-winning move.
Since the beginning of last season, they have combined for 16 goals in La Liga alone, and Koke, who could have also gotten his name on the score-sheet late on if not for the crossbar, was full of praise post-match for his teammate.
“I try and help the team any way I can, whether that’s with assists for goals or not. Diego [Costa] loses defenders so well, you only have to look,” he said in the zona mixta.
“I’m surprised Brazil haven’t called Diego. Could he play for La Roja? We’ll see.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to see Koke and Costa continuing their formidable partnership in Brazil next summer?
Captain Gabi leads by example
He may not be the most talented player in the world, but as captains go, Gabi has done a sensational job since embarking on a second spell at his childhood club, given the expectations. With the #14 on his back, Simeone has moulded a midfielder and leader similar to himself at the heart of the team.
Partnered by Tiago, he did a great job of stopping the supply to Real’s attack and cutting out space between the lines, as did the Portuguese veteran. Illarramendi was substituted at half-time, and golden boy Isco was also taken off as Ancelotti tried to reshuffle, but every combination he tried was shut down by the Atleti pair.
However, in true captain style, the former Zaragoza man followed his manager’s lead and handed the praise to the team as a whole.
“The performance we made was huge. We defended very well, worked hard and created chances, enough to score even more than we did,” he said.
“Beating a team like Real Madrid is not easy, but the team really deserved it. It was a very all-round performance, we stopped them having chances and frustrated them, which was important.”
- This was Atlético’s sixth consecutive away win in La Liga, and record 16th unbeaten in all competitions. The last time we lost on the road was back in early February against Rayo Vallecano.
- Like Barcelona, we have won 7 out of 7 league games so far, and this the first time ever that two separate teams have done that. We also became the first team to win away at Real Madrid in the league since Barça in 2011, some 34 matches ago. David Villa also played on that occasion.
- The clean sheet means we also join the Culés as the best side in Spain defensively. So far this season, we have already stopped the country’s two giants from scoring in their own homes.
- Filipe Luís made eight tackles over the course of the match, a number no player in La Liga can match this year. It also happened to be his 100th victory in Spanish league competition. Bale who?
- Atlético managed five more corners and three more dribbles than Real, hit the woodwork twice, and also received more fouls. We don’t need to be reminded which team is seen as dirty and defensive, and which expansive, free-flowing, and powerful in attack (not that we particularly care, anyway).
- The win means that for the first time in history, we have won two successive matches in the Santiago Bernabéu. Just six months ago, who would have thought it?
- Less than 100 Atleti fans saw the win in all its glory, with the majority taking a stance against inflated ticket prices, of which the cheapest was €70. For the pocket that did make it in though, this would’ve been priceless.