Atlético were able to best Elche 2-0 after a fiercely contested first half in which the scrappy hosts matched Simeone’s men in guts and intensity at the Estadio Martínez Valero.
Second half goals by the Colchoneros’ dynamic duo of Koke and Diego Costa were enough to put out Fran Escribá’s charges’ fire.
The introduction of Raúl García after an hour of play and, a little later, Adrián, proved a winning formula for the visitors, as the pair of substitutes had an immediate impact on the outcome of the encounter.
Saturday’s triumph temporarily placed Atleti at the top of the table, even with Barcelona at 40 points each.
But, the Blaugrana will have a chance to retake their lead when they face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Atlético will now gear up for their Copa del Rey title defense, which begins in Barcelona at the home of Segunda División B outfit UE Sant Andreu next Saturday.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “It’s a great time to be an Atlético Madrid fan”
“We came out really well in the first half, but minutes before getting to the break we couldn’t find any clear chances to cause them damage, while they put together two or three dangerous counterattacks,” Rojiblanco don Diego Simeone explained in his post-game press conference.
“We spoke to the players in the dressing room, and we tried to explain that we had to play the match from the flanks more.
“We needed to create more danger on the wings. That’s how the game played out until Raúl García and Adrián’s entries offered us two strokes of brilliance at an important moment.”
‘Cholo’ continued: “It has been an important victory against a tough opponent with crucial team work.
“We’re realists about our present. We know that we rely on a huge effort by the entire team. I know it’s a great time to be an Atlético Madrid fan, but we have to isolate ourselves from that.
“Our only reality is our next match.”
Koke helps himself to a goal
Normally assuming the role of provider for his teammates, Atleti midfielder and Spain’s joint-leader in assists Koke drew first blood on Saturday when he tapped in a rebounded effort by Raúl García in the 63rd minute.
Jorge Resurrección Merodio (translation: ‘Georgie Resurrection Fothermucker’) now has three goals and nine assists in all competitions in the current campaign.
“We knew that it would be a very tough match because they were going to push us to our limits on this pitch,” the future of Spain said.
“We were conscious that we were going to have to open up the field, and that we would have to take advantage of our chances. But, we have strength up top, and we were able to get two goals that have helped us achieve the victory.”
Koke continued: “We always keep our feet on the ground, only thinking about our own results, staying on track, and we take on every game as if it were a final. We have to keep it up and, hopefully, when there are five matches left, we continue this way.”
One goal per league game for Costa
With his strike on Saturday, Diego Costa kept his pace of one-goal-per-match in La Liga in the present term. The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ now has 15 in 15 Primera clashes, and 18 in 19 official games this season.
Costa was able to close in on Cristiano Ronaldo’s lead in the Pichichi standings, but he remains in second place. The Real Madrid striker, with 17 goals in La Liga, sat out over the weekend in order to nurse an injury.
The thing is, Cristiano has needed 111 shots (or 7.9 per game) to get to his 17 goal total (5 of them coming from penalty kicks). Costa, on the other hand, has only needed 47 shots (or 3.1 per game) to bag 15 (2 of them from the spot).
There is a category that, as of Saturday, Costa does lead though: fouls drawn. That’s right. Not committed–drawn. The Brazilian has been fouled 51 times, more than anyone else in all of Europe’s top leagues.
The Beast has seen a grand total of 2 yellow cards in 15 league appearances (14 as a starter) this season.
Godín hits century mark with Atleti, praises team-wide effort in shutout
Uruguayan central defender Diego Godín celebrated his 100th Primera División bout in red and white by taking part in yet another Atleti shutout.
“Everything we do shows the hunger and ambition of this club and the squad,” the 27-year-old said afterwards.
“We’re doing things well with a lot of a ambition and a lot of desire.”
He continued: “Last year, we won the Zamora. It’s satisfying for everyone because it’s the effort of the whole team. Apart from working well at the back, you see how much Costa, Villa, Adrián or Raúl run and all the scoring they’re doing, and it’s incredible.
“We never lack intensity and attitude in any game. We can play football better or worse, because we have an opponent in front of us that makes things hard, but the team is impeccable in sacrifice and intensity, and that allows us to prevent the other team’s attack from creating chances, and to leave Thibaut with practically no work to do.”
The revival of Adrián?
For the third straight match, Adrián has made a meaningful contribution to the final score. Following back-to-back goal-scoring performances — one in La Liga last weekend and another in Champions League play at the midweek — ‘Adri’ delivered a wonderful assist after coming on for Arda at the 70th minute mark, his second this season.
The pass, an exquisitely executed floater into the running path of Costa, harked back to the days of the forward’s sublime form in the 2011-12 campaign.
Has the Asturian finally made his long-awaited return?
- David Villa, who came into the game red hot (six goals in his previous five appearances), was ice cold in Alicante Saturday. The former Barça man, rested for our recent trip to St. Petersburg, only managed 16 touches against Elche. Replacement Raúl García, in less than half that time, tallied 20 touches, immediately producing a spark when he stepped in after 62 minutes.
- Thibaut Courtois experienced a mixed bag of a week — a comical blunder at Zenit in Champions League play cost us a victory, while ‘thibauting’ was nominated for Belgian sports word of the year. But, the superstar goalkeeper bounced back to secure his tenth shutout on the term on Saturday (seventh in La Liga). Note: AtléticoFans expects every man, woman and child that supports the red and white cause to do their duty and vote for thibauting here. If they don’t, Costa and Cholo will hunt them down.
- Koke and Filipe Luís joined Arda, Gabi and Raúl García on the soon-to-be-suspended list. All five players have seen four yellows this season.
- Former Deportivo man (which is a little hard to believe now) Filipe took part in his 150th game with Atleti (108 in La Liga; 13 in Copa del Rey; 2 in Spanish Super Cup; 4 in Champions League; 22 in Europa League; and 1 UEFA Super Cup).
- Elche’s top performer on the afternoon was defensive midfielder and Atleti youth academy product Rubén Pérez, on a one-year loan at the club from Atlético. With regard to whether he felt he made a good impression on his boyhood club, the 24-year-old said: “I’ve played against Atleti four times now, and I take it as just one more game. I have nothing to prove. They know how I play.”
- Only last season’s Barcelona side (and with a win on Sunday this season’s Barcelona side) have achieved more points than Atlético’s current total of 40 after the first 15 games of a Liga campaign, Pedro Martin reports. Mr. Martin also points out that Real Madrid have never reached 40 points as quickly as we have.