15 home games into the present La Liga campaign and Atlético remain unvanquished at the Vicente Calderón.
Espanyol, the latest visitors to ‘Cholo Castle’, certainly put up a fight–but los Rojiblancos were able to gut out the result for their third straight triumph in all competitions.
In spite of coming out of the gate ferociously Saturday night, Atleti’s attacks were successfully stifled by Espanyol throughout the first 45 minutes.
Javier Aguirre’s men employed very aggressive tactics, hacking down our players often and preventing them from getting into any sort of rhythm on offense.
It was a choppy game, and our countless crosses into the box were mostly foiled by the Periquito defence.
Meanwhile, we looked vulnerable on the counter.
Luckily for us, Thibaut Courtois was an impenetrable force field for our opponents, keeping us in the game long enough for Diego Costa to finally puncture Kiko Casilla’s goal.
Atlético struggled to exterminate their foes in the last half hour of the bout, which made for some very tense final minutes at the Calderón.
Along with the three points, the final whistle brought with it a huge collective sigh of relief, as Atleti remain alive in the hunt for the league title following Real Madrid’s 1-0 win in Málaga just prior to kick-off.
If los Colchoneros can pull off a victory at the Benito Villaramín next Sunday where they square off against Betis, a Madrid defeat to Barcelona in the Clásico a few hours later will propel us to the top of the table.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone’s still not ready to talk about trophies
“We had to work for it,” admitted Atleti boss Diego Simeone in his post-game press conference.
“When you don’t end up scoring the second one, the nerves show up. We managed them well. They didn’t have great chances, but they did have possibilities of going on the attack.”
He continued, showering praise on his squad: “What the players are doing is extraordinary. There are no other words because they give the maximum and are able to achieve results.
“They held on to the shutout and continue to keep their prospects high in La Liga and in the Champions League.”
‘El Cholo’ then explained how the red and white stripes help his team get pumped up for battle.
“We are motivated when we walk into the dressing room and we see the Atlético shirt,” he said.
“We feel like we can identify with the fans. We have to work hard for everything, everything is complicated and tough, and we keep pushing like the vast majority of society has to.”
Simeone refused to speak of his club’s chances of lifting the league title this season.
“I’ve said it on other occasions: we will not talk about it until there are five games left,” he said.
“If we make it there in the same position we’re in now, we’ll start talking about other things.”
Costa reaches 30 goals in official competition this season
“He wasn’t precise in the first half,” Cholo said of his deadliest weapon Diego Costa, who came into the clash on the back of a two-goal performance on Tuesday against AC Milan.
“I like how he got out of his struggles. He didn’t find the cross or the perfect pass but he waited for his moment calmly and got open, and that’s what I take from his game.
“He went from struggle to success with ease and confidence in himself.”
Costa’s match-winner was his 30th goal of the current campaign and 22nd strike in league play. The 25-year-old is a hat trick away from the Primera División’s top scorer Cristiano, who tallied his 25th in Málaga on Saturday.
‘The Beast’ paid tribute to Emerson de Almeida Souza, or ‘Totoca’, after finding the back of the net. Souza was a 24-year-old lawyer and childhood friend from Costa’s hometown of Lagarto who was recently killed in a car accident, according to AS reporter Dani Hidalgo.
“It was for a friend of mine and for his family,” Costa said of the message written on his shirt that he revealed while celebrating our lone strike.
“I’m very happy about the result. Espanyol played a great match. They made things very hard for us, but this makes us stronger.
“We knew how to suffer when we had to suffer.”
Ok, but did Thibaut really have to suffer?
Our Belgian wonderkeeper Thibaut Courtois delivered some heroic saves on the night to earn his 20th shutout of the season (14th in La Liga).
Let’s hope Thibaut can remember them though.
With about 15 minutes left on the clock, Courtois was knocked out cold after he took a charging Espanyol forward Jhon Córdoba’s knee directly to his forehead.
It got pretty scary for a moment there. ‘Tibu’ lie motionless for about 30 seconds until Filipe smacked him in the face to see if he was still alive.
The World Cup-bound shotstopper got up, shook off the stars and, still looking a little woozy, continued between the sticks.
Just a few minutes after suffering that blow, he miscalculated a dive to the right and ended up making a save with his beautiful face.
As one Atleti supporter put it: “Better a dizzy Courtois than a fresh Aranzubia.”
- David Villa was very active in front of goal on Saturday, and was our biggest threat up top in the first half. Time-after-time, ‘El Guaje’ beat his markers to the ball in the air–on one occasion forcing a fine save from Espanyol goalkeeper Casilla. The breakthrough strike appeared close for the former Culé forward, who has 15 goals with Atleti, but it never arrived. He did pick up his third assist of the term though, when he fed a lovely pass to Costa. By now it’s clear that Villa is to be primarily utilised by Simeone in La Liga, as the Asturian, having nabbed a brace to give us the victory in Vigo last weekend, did not take part at all against Milan on Tuesday. In fact, the 32-year-old striker has only started one game in Champions League this season and has appeared in two others as a substitute.
- Tobias Albertine Maurits Alderweireld, or Toby, stepped in for the suspended Miranda and performed admirably alongside Diego Godín, who made his 150th appearance with Atlético. Godín’s official debut in red and white came on August 27 2010, in a game against Inter Milan that ended with the Uruguayan lifting his first title on European soil. The 28-year-old has gone on to win three more trophies with Atleti, and has 12 goals to his name since joining the club.
- Tiago, who just recovered from injury, will be forced to serve suspension for our trip to Sevilla next weekend when we take on bottom-of-the-league Betis. The former Portugal international was booked for a fifth time this season, when he, according to the referee’s official act, moved a ball from the spot of a foul in the 89th minute. Meanwhile, Espanyol’s Stuani won the Xabi Alonso Award by committing five fouls without getting a yellow.
- Filipe Luís has gone an impressive 10 league games without earning a booking, and 16 games overall without seeing yellow. He’s the last man standing in the four-yellow club. “The three points are very sweet,” Filipe said after the match. “We’re very happy to remain up top.”
- As much as Gabi was lauded, rightfully, for his tremendous performance on Tuesday, the match against Milan apparently took a physical toll on him. ‘Captain Colchonero’ did not look at all sharp on Saturday, and made two horrendous passes that very fortunately didn’t result in Espanyol goals. With a little rest, including two off days before the squad returns to practice on Tuesday, our skipper should be back at full strength for our trip to Sevilla.
- Simeone surprisingly opted to roll out with countryman José Sosa, as opposed to handing a start to Diego. “He’s gotten three assists in the few games he’s played in,” Cholo said with regard to his decision. “Today, there weren’t many spaces for him and for Arda, Villa or Costa. Sosa is offering us important things and we have faith in him.” ‘The Little Prince’ failed to impress this time around, committing turnover after turnover in the final third until Cholo decided to replace him with Koke. Sure enough, moments after Sosa stepped out and our ‘Resurrector’ stepped in, we broke the deadlock.