In one of the most enchanting nights at the Vicente Calderón in recent memory, Atlético soared to the top of the league table for the first time in 18 years by handily defeating Real Sociedad 4-0.
Los Colchoneros honoured the glory days of their past by paying tribute to a fallen idol who fully embodied the spirit of the club’s halcyon days.
Out of respect for the legendary former No. 8, ‘Cholo Castle’ — world-renowned for its charming rowdiness — was as quiet as any given Santiago Bernabéu evening for the first eight minutes of the clash before fans erupted into chants of “Luis Aragonés!” that lasted beyond the end of regulation time.
Barcelona’s shock defeat to Valencia at the Camp Nou on Saturday helped set up the unforgettable events to come the following day.
Atleti had blown chances to surpass the Culés on the table before, but this time, we knew it would be different.
David Villa got the party started in the 38th minute and, after a mild response from our visitors after the break, Diego Costa, Miranda and Diego launched their salvos to complete the rout.
Atlético wrested the first place spot away from the Blaugrana, who sat at the top for a record 59 consecutive rounds.
But the magic didn’t end there.
Real Madrid were in a great position to leap frog Barça as well, but the Merengues came up short in Bilbao, only managing a draw against the squad we defeated at the midweek.
With the two richest clubs in Spain both having dropped points this round, Atleti, the richest in spirit, climbed to a three-point advantage in first place.
Simeone’s men can further legitimize their reign in Spain with a big result in Wednesday’s semifinal first leg match at the Bernabéu.
Three in a row, anyone?
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “Luis would be dressed in red and white up there and happy”
“Without a doubt it’s a good thing [to be the leaders]–for the players, because they are making a great effort,” said Rojiblanco boss Diego Simeone after his men reached the summit of Primera.
“It’s good in order to continue taking on each game with the intensity and level of work that we have been putting in in league play.”
He continued: “In the end, we finished off playing in a 4-5-1, with Diego inserted next to Mario, Gabi and Koke. The match was a tough one, hard, beyond what the team’s final result showed. At the start of the second half, they complicated things for us without creating clear goalscoring chances; without much danger because we were closed tight. There’s a problem when we don’t attack. I don’t mind defending in any area of the pitch.
“It was hard for us to attack and, later, the changes refreshed the team and we were able to retain the ball more. We started to breathe and to retake control of the game like in the first half.
“We leave with three points against very tough opponents.”
Atleti fans, you know the drill.
“The objectives are clear: the next match,” ‘Cholo’ said.
“Up next is the Cup encounter on Wednesday. We have to recover and see in what manner we make it there. We have to recover, because we play every three days. So, we have to rest to see how we resolve all these games.”
On the death of Aragonés, Simeone said: “When a man like Luis leaves us, there is pain and sadness, but, today, I was excited by the game and by the supporters.
“I was touched by the silence before the eighth minute of the first half. What Luis leaves us with is the respect for which today, he was applauded for throughout all the grounds.
“From up high, he’d be dressed in red and white and happy because of our courage, because he was a courageous man with character; and this team has that.”
Villa up, Villa down
Simeone’s faith in David Villa has paid off of late. ‘El Guaje’ broke the deadlock by netting his third goal in as many league games, and now has 13 in red and white (11 in La Liga).
But, the 32-year-old hit a snag just when he was heating up, having sustained a lower leg muscle injury — apparently during his goal celebration — that forced him to come off prematurely.
Hopefully it’s a minor knock and Villa will be set for his fourth straight league game with a goal in Almería.
It’s unlikely he’ll be available for our Copa bout on Wednesday.
Bonus note: Villa has more goals than Neymar.
Costa tallies goal number 25
In the opening minutes of the proceedings, Diego Costa put his arsenal of talents on display. The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ tore through defender-after-defender, with power, speed and touch. Costa made La Real’s defenders look like sorry goons in a 1980s action flick. It was too bad that his shot, from a very difficult angle, ended up in Claudio Bravo’s hands.
Later in the half, he served as provider for ‘El Guaje’, bagging his fourth assist this season.
There was much talk of the 25-year-old’s barren spell to open up the year, but all those concerns have been allayed following back-to-back outings with a goal.
The Beast now has one for each year of his illustrious life, notching his 25th goal of the campaign (20th in La Liga) in the 72nd minute.
Oh those goals by Miranda!
Miranda’s goals always transport us to that one strike back in the 98th minute of a fateful May 17th night across town.
The centre-back picked up his third of the season with his excellent header in the 74th minute off a well-executed corner by Koke.
The Brazilian quietly broke a record with our triumph over the Txuri-Urdin, becoming the first Atleti player to string together 22 straight appearances without a loss.
Diego’s fairy tale return
When we all went to bed on Thursday, we had no inkling of a possible deal being in the works to bring our beloved Diego back home where he belongs.
And just like that, the Brazilian found himself on the scoresheet in his first game back in the colours that suit him best.
He was just as thrilled as all of us about it, too. After exquisitely controlling Cebolla’s pass inside the box and going on to smash the life out of the ball, sending it roaring into the back of the net, Diego celebrated very emotionally–reminiscent of his celebration after his goal in the Europa League final in Bucharest of two seasons ago (go ahead…I’ll wait for you while you go and grab your tissues).
The 28-year-old now has seven goals overall with Atleti.
When many of us go to bed on Sunday, we’ll be dreaming of our prodigal son’s appearance in Wednesday’s Copa semifinal at the Bernabéu.
“Diego’s arrival is going to offer us what you all saw,” Simeone said.
“He’s a player with attacking abilities and personality, who’s aggressive in his play. Any time the ball passes through him, dangerous things can happen.”
Hell. Yes. Cholo.
- That’s 16 clean sheets for Thibaut Courtois now in the current campaign, and 11 in La Liga. Courtois, who donned slick-looking all black attire, likely to mourn Aragonés’ passing, collected two saves. Our Belgian wonder is fully locked in for a second Zamora Trophy bid.
- Raúl García didn’t start, so, naturally, he didn’t score. But ‘RG8’, who replaced Villa in the 41st minute, did go on to lob in a wonderful pass to Costa for the Beast to slam home. ‘The Real Raúl’ now has four assists to go along with his 13 goals in the present term.
- Koke grabbed his 9th assist in La Liga and 12th overall this season when one of his corner kicks found Miranda’s beautiful head. The ‘Resurrector’ will be suspended for our trip to Almería next weekend though, as he saw his fifth yellow on Sunday.
- While Raúl García tends to shine as a starter, it’s a well-known fact that Cebolla Rodríguez performs best as a substitute. Rodríguez only needed nine minutes to pick up his second assist of the season and first in La Liga, when he fed Diego after some fine footwork of his own. Onions for dessert? Get used to the concept.
- Mario Suárez reappeared after having missed all of November, December and January with a knee injury, and put in a very solid shift. “We recovered Mario, who made a great effort. Perhaps he wasn’t at a point in which he can play all 90 minutes, but he hung in there with manliness and sacrifice. It’s not easy to come in in tune the way he did,” said Cholo.
- Despite Real Sociedad’s insistence on attacking down his flank, Emiliano Insua held up remarkably well in replacement of superstar left-back Filipe Luís. The Argentine was also effective with his offensive duties. Of his countryman, Simeone said: “Insua had been waiting for his chance for a long time. Unfortunately, [he got it] because of an injury. This allows us to be competitive, because of his effort and his manner of thinking about the group.“
- The four-yellow crew currently consists of: Filipe, Miranda, Diego Godín, Arda, Tiago and Costa.
- Atleti have tied their best unbeaten streak in their history, also previously achieved under Simeone: 23 games without seeing defeat.