The red and white aftermath: Match Day 18

Magical season continues for Atlético after Koke's late winner at La Rosaleda

Koke celebrates match-winner  (

Koke celebrates match-winner

Atlético grinded out a narrow 1-0 road victory over Málaga on Saturday to briefly take over the top spot in La Liga.

For a while, it appeared as if recent history would repeat itself.

Los Rojiblancos’ previous two visits to La Rosaleda had both ended in scoreless draws, so when the 70th minute mark was approaching, fans were hard-pressed to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Though Atleti looked the more dangerous side on the afternoon, clear-cut chances were few and far between.

Finally, with 20 minutes to spare, Diego Simeone’s men broke through.

Koke pounced on a softly-parried ball by Willy Caballero and struck it home for the lead.

Atleti’s league-best defence fended off their hosts for the remainder of the clash to pick up their seventh away win of the season.

Next on the agenda is Tuesday’s Copa del Rey round of 16 first-leg match at the Mestalla.

Four days after we take on Valencia, we square up against Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón for a colossal match-up between Spain’s top two outfits.

It’s always nice to see yourself at the top of the table, and if it’s in first, even more so. We work hard to win each game and to get to the end of the season with a chance to win titles.” – Diego Godín

Post-game notes and quotes:

Teams go all out against Atleti, Simeone feels

Last Friday, Diego Simeone explained that Atleti have to work extra hard for everything they’d like to achieve–indirectly pointing out the financial advantage the league’s two richest clubs enjoy each year.

“Look at what it takes for us to win,” the Rojiblanco boss reiterated in his post-game press conference following Saturday’s triumph.

“There’s a huge difference between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and with the effort that we show we’re trying to put up a fight.

“We get excited taking it game-by-game, because with that approach, we have a chance. But we can’t go beyond that, because [Real and Barcelona] have more possibilities.”

‘El Cholo’ suggested his squad have become marked men.

“Opponents are making an enormous effort against us and work very well, just like what happened when we played Levante and Elche, and what happened today against Málaga,” he said.

“Málaga tried to play their game, giving us the ball and looking for counters, but they didn’t have any. They defended well and we didn’t create many goalscoring chances.

“We tried to control the game in different ways. In the first half, with Arda as the playmaker and in the second, with Adrián as a dual playmaker with Villa and, later, with the strength of [‘Cebolla’] Rodríguez. The match was won by the group. It was hard-fought, and if it hadn’t been for the joint effort and for the players that came in and how they performed, we would not have won.

With regard to being neck-and-neck with Barça at the top of the table, the Argentine tactician said: “It would be so much nicer if we’re in this position at the end of the season. There’s still a long way to go. We have to start looking to Valencia, who, with a new coach, will make things hard for us.

“Then there’s another big game at the Calderón next week.”

Koke to the rescue

Playing more withdrawn as a defensive midfielder in place of captain Gabi didn’t stop Koke from having a major impact on Saturday’s result.

The 21-year-old scored his fourth goal of the season, all of his strikes coming in league play. It’s his highest output in a single campaign.

“It was important to get these three points,” Koke said afterwards.

“We knew it would be a tough match. They’ve played a great game defensively, but in the end we were able to get the victory with my goal, but the important thing is the three points that we take home.

“The team has faith in what it does. We try to play our own game and get the job done.”

‘Georgie Resurrection’ didn’t want to look past our midweek Copa fixture when asked about next Saturday’s big game.

“We have to think about the Copa because we’re up against a very difficult opponent, and on top of that we play the first match in Valencia. It’s going to be very hard and we’ll give them everything we have.”

On avoiding a fifth booking that would have led to automatic suspension from our next league game, Koke said: “I’m very happy because I’ll be available against Barcelona.”

Juanfran wasn’t as lucky

Sadly, right-back Juanfran picked up a fifth yellow card and will be forced to sit out for ‘Tata’ Martino’s crew’s visit.

While it’s hard to single out a player that most embodies Cholo’s warrior spirit, Juanfran is up there with the best of them, and his presence will be missed when we meet head-on with the Blaugrana.

Simeone will have a big decision to make as to who will step in for the former Osasuna man, and will likely choose between the inexperienced Javi Manquillo and the untested Toby Alderweireld.

While the Belgian is a natural central defender, he has frequently featured as a right-back for his national team.

Other notes:

  • Thibaut Courtois bagged yet another clean sheet, his 12th of the present campaign (9th in La Liga). Once again, the Belgium international hardly broke a sweat, though he was credited with three saves.
  • David Villa continues to be mired in a bit of a slump, having gone goalless in four straight appearances following a stretch of seven goals in seven games. In spite of his 10 goals in all competitions in his first year at Atleti, the Asturian is really struggling to get himself involved and may be in real danger of losing his place in the starting line-up.
  • Another player that failed to live up to expectations was youngster Óliver, who was handed a very rare start (his sixth of the season and second in La Liga). The 19-year-old left his bag of tricks at home and was replaced by Adrián after the break. “He came out because the team needed other characteristics, because the match came out differently than we had expected,” said Cholo.
  • Though our newest Colchonero José Sosa made it into the match selection for this encounter, he did not see a minute of action. Of the attacking midfielder, Simeone said: “He’s learning what Atlético are, what his teammates aim for when they play, and his adaptation will be quicker. I imagine that in 15 days we’ll have the José Sosa that I expect.”
  • While Juanfran was unable to avoid his fifth booking of the season, Arda, Filipe and Koke did and will be available for our bout versus the Culés. Tiago and Diego Costa joined the list of Colchoneros on four yellows when they were each booked against Málaga.

  • ali_

    i guess we gonna have problems the next leauge game after barcelona, which is againt sevilla, at home. i wouldnt be surprised if all of our 5 starters who has 4 yellows, would get another yellow card.

  • piserakos

    agree with Ali probably with Barca we will pick cards, the same will happen with Sevilla. We have a difficult programm and we should not afford to play games with many players banned…. Personally I would rest 4-5 players with Valencia (Godin, Felipe, Costa, Arda) would be my choise. It was a difficult game but Atleti has changed, last year when we had problems and we couldn’t win. But not now. I’m so excited for the game against Barca that I even don’t really think that tomorrow we play against Valencia, hope our players don’t have the same think with me. I agree that Villa has not many chances yet to prove hisself maybe the game with Barca will be one of his last chances to shine (of course we have a lot of games and he sure will play at many of them). Aupa Atleti

  • Will

    Ali pointed a very important issue. It’s exactly why Simeone said it’s a “boring league”. If Barcelona or Real Madrid have 4 or 5 suspended players, or Messi injured for half season, they have 4 or 5 world class players sitting on the bench waiting for a opportunity.
    La Liga’s money distribution really needs to be reconsidered. How can you compete with 2 clubs that have the same money as all others 1st and 2nd division summed up? What Atlético is doing in these seasons is remarkable almost miraculous.

    But let’s go with the “game-by-game” mindset. Now, Valencia in Mestalla. 🙂

  • piserakos(Griegos Rojiblancos)

    Spanish Federation MUST do somethink right now at TV rights sharring. It’s a matter of life and death. If I remember well Atleti and Valencia gain about 40mill from TV rights and the 2 noobs about 120mill it’s crazy. It’s normal that they will have more income than the other teams (CL, tickets, sponsors, etc) but TV right should be much more equal. At my country that was a problem for many years at basketball when Olympiakos and Panathinaikos gained all the money from TV and the others just a few. Now no one cares about basket. Ok they have 2 of the best teams at Europe but they have and ticket average of 400-500 persons and they had started selling their stars cause there is no reason to have them. This is going to happen in Spain, last 2-3 years it has started (ok economical crisis helped also) all teams sell their stars to Premier $hit, Sevilla sold Navas, Negredo, Medel and others. Valencia Soldado and they had sold Mata, Silva and others the last seasons. We sold Falcao and we had sold De Gea, Agouero and others. Bilbao Martinez and Llorente. Even Celta sold Iago Aspas. That is worring. Barca and Real have all-stars player sitting at the bench. Damn Alexis was a reserve player. Who?? Alexis, a player who would be a star at almost all the teams at the world. Real has the same issue with Di Maria, Casillas and other. Just hope Atleti will win La Liga and show this jurks that there are other teams except those 2 noobs.

  • starvs

    I mean, Alexis would be the single best player on pretty much every team in the world except about 10, maybe 15? Hard to compete with that…yet we are, thus far…gracias cholo.

  • pantic#10

    Convocatoria for Valencia:

    My 11:
    Filipe – Toby – Godin – Juanfran
    Josuha – Gabi
    Adrian – Koke – Villa