Atlético capped off the best year in club history with yet another triumph at the unconquerable Vicente Calderón, though this 3-2 win came after a vigorously-contested battle against Levante.
If ever there was a match to exemplify the era of ‘Cholo’, Sunday night’s was not it. Well, at least, not the beginning of it.
Los Colchoneros had gone over two months without conceding a goal at their fortress in league action, so it was quite a shock to see Levante break through after only a minute of play Saturday night.
It was the first time this season Simeone’s men had allowed a goal within the first half hour of a league encounter.
On the two-year anniversary of the match that gave way to Simeone’s reign, our Copa del Rey-eliminating loss to Albacete, it was looking like history would repeat itself as our warriors were unrecognisable.
Atleti fought back though, making things right and finally going up 2-1–but, then they suffered another uncharacteristic lapse.
10 minutes into the second half, a rare blunder by Koke resulted in a devastating equaliser by Levante’s Pedro Ríos, just when the men in red and white were finally getting comfortable.
The strike was reminiscent of the now, thankfully, long-gone days of chaos and uncertainty in Rojiblanco land.
Atlético bore down and went on to gut out the result though, making it 13 wins on the trot at home–unvanquished in Colchonero territory all season long.
So, while it wasn’t the best example of the ‘Cholo Effect’, it ended up being a great one.
Atleti finished the night in sole possession of first place on the Primera table, but Barcelona will have a chance to reclaim the lead on Sunday, though they’ll have to defeat their hosts Getafe by at least two goals to do so.
Los Azulones will have more support than ever for that bout, as a pair of their fellow Madrid-based outfits will be heavily rooting for them to take out the Culés.
Our men will rest for the holidays and return to action on the 4th of January when they head out to Málaga without captain Gabi and Raúl García, both facing automatic suspension for that trip.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “We’ve evolved tremendously in two years”
At the midweek, Atleti boss Diego Simeone shed some light on his “game-by-game” philosophy, explaining that, “We’ll have time in the future to sit down and say ‘didn’t we do well, that was extraordinary’ or ‘we could have done more’. We have to keep ourselves blinkered like horses and only look forward, to avoid distracting ourselves from our objective.”
He continued: “I believe, honestly, that the best way to arrive at these situations is to go day-by-day. I would compare it to a doctor who is going to operate. He who pays, the patient or the football fan, only wants the operation to go well. But the doctor needs the anaesthetist to do his job well, the surgeon also, the nurse…an architect with the foundations, the pillars.
“We need to withdraw ourselves a bit. It is normal for the fans to want to end up champions, but we must dedicate ourselves to building the house.”
The Argentine tactician’s squad ran into some complications on their way to building their house on Saturday.
“What I most liked about the game was the ending,” Simeone said after the win.
“When you don’t play out the game that’s expected and everything starts turning into negative situations, the team resolves it, convincingly, with tenacity, patience and a lot of intensity from the second through the ninety-third minute.”
‘El Cholo’ then looked back at his time at the helm of his beloved club.
“The boys have evolved tremendously when you look back two years from today,” he said.
“It’s not only psychological, physical, or tactical. There’s a club here with the foundation laid for achieving its objective and it must always be this way. That’s not negotiable. For us, life revolves around each game. Today, we found solutions in spite of the difficulty, and that is very healthy for the future.”
Cholo continued: “Football is about mistakes. We’re not exempt from committing them. It’s normal that we make mistakes. We had some today, but I leave with the fact that, in a span of four days with a different group, we were losing 1-0 and we came back to win in both matches, because the team never negotiates anything.
“We played with a lot of love [for our team] and with a lot of heart. With the support of the fans, we lived a magical day at the Calderón.
“There was real football on the pitch today.
“In the hard times, we have to find solutions. We had a lot of them, and when the comfort of the match made things appear to be resolved, they scored on a counter. The team did not relent, and the Atlético fan needs to be close to the players because they are doing unforgettable things.”
Godín leads the charge
Majestically, like a natural born 9, Diego Godín got up, wound his head back and swung it into the ball, pushing Juanfran’s cross into the top-right corner of the net beyond the outstretched hand of Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas for our equaliser in the 30th minute.
The Uruguayan celebrated the strike with a fury, even kissing the Land of Fire logo on his rojiblanca.
The goal, Godín’s second of the season and first in La Liga, restored tranquility at ‘Cholo Castle’.
Our men were back in it.
Consecutive braces for the ‘Beast’
For the second straight weekend, Diego Costa took home a double, finishing the year of 2013 with 27 goals in official competition.
Only Falcao (32 in 2012) and Forlán (28 in 2009), have scored more league goals for Atleti in a natural year–remarkable considering Diego has only been the focal point of our attack for half a year.
Costa is proving to be every bit as menacing as (if not more than) his predecessor Radamel Falcao.
First it was a dandy volley that he smashed in with his left foot from close distance, and then our penalty-kick-taker-extraordinaire converted one from the spot.
The Brazilian-born future Spain international now has 23 goals in 23 appearances in 2013-14. Imagine if he had made some of those three missed penalties!
‘Mr. Calderón’ has scored in all nine of our home games in league play.
Costa’s total in La Liga stands at 19, giving him exclusive (temporary) rights to the Pichichi trophy, with Cristiano close behind at 17 goals as of Saturday.
“It was an agonising match with a good ending,” our superstar striker told reporters afterwards.
“The team is doing really well and things are going right for me, personally, and hopefully, they continue that way. The most important thing is the team. Forwards always need goals, but what’s really relevant is for those goals to help rack up points.”
Holy shish moment! Costa has five less goals in the present La Liga campaign than Falcao had in all of his first term (24), and nine less than ‘El Tigre’ had in the entirety of last season (28). The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ is on pace to hit the 40-mark by the end of term.
Sensational night for Juanfran
Here at AtléticoFans we tend to jokingly refer to Juanfran as the ‘homeless one’, given his general shabby appearance.
But this time…meh, forget it. Here we go again.
The former Osasuna man played like he was promised a warm meal should he turn in a solid performance Saturday night, ending the evening with his third assist of the season and a crucial penalty won.
If he keeps up his current form, there’s a chance he’ll even secure temporary housing in Brazil in the summer with the Spanish national team.
That’s guaranteed food for about three weeks!
Though Atleti’s offense is characterised as a ‘left-sided’ one — as our attacks are predominantly generated from Filipe Luís’ flank — most of our goals actually come from the right. In fact, no other club has created more goals from the right than Atlético.
18 of our goals have come about from Juanfran’s side, while eight have come from the left, Pedro Martin of COPE pointed out.
A rare feature of our attack on Saturday was that the vast majority of our offensive charges took place from the right flank, with Filipe being snuffed out on the opposite side.
“We’ve given our all,” said Juanfran in the mixed zone following the triumph.
“There was a great atmosphere and that allows us to march off to our vacation at the top of the league table. Because of all of that, the Atlético fan has to feel very proud.”
- Gabi was responsible for providing Costa with the wonderful cross the Beast smashed in for our second goal, giving our skipper five assists in La Liga and eight overall–already twice as many as his total of four from the previous campaign.
- Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was furious, and rightfully so, when he was forced to make a spectacular save to block David Barral’s point-blank effort shortly after Levante had stunned us with their opening goal. Courtois, like the Rojiblanco faithful, was in disbelief and wanted his defence to snap out of their daze. The Belgian later conceded his 100th goal after 122 matches on-loan with Atleti.
- It was another shocker for David Villa, who’s in the hot seat and in danger of losing his starting job to Raúl García. ‘El Guaje’ totalled 18 touches in one hour before being replaced by Raúl. Really Villa? My fifth-grade girlfriend would touch me more times in an hour.
- Was Koke punished for his costly mistake? It was our ‘Georgie Resurrection’s’ blunder that led to Levante’s second goal, and apparently Cholo was none too pleased. Koke was surprisingly subbed off after 64 minutes and replaced by Adrián. Our star midfielder didn’t appear to have suffered an injury, so the move was likely in reaction to his error.
- Juanfran, Koke, Filipe Luís and Arda go into the Málaga clash with four yellows, and will want to avoid a fifth booking that would cause them to miss out on Barcelona’s visit.
- Atleti’s total of 46 points is a club record for the first half of a Primera División campaign. That’s especially remarkable, as we still have two games left to complete the opening half.