Atlético put together a hairy-chested, stomp-your-foot-on-the-ground-and-punch-a-Madridista-in-the-face comeback performance in Bilbao on Saturday to earn their fifth straight league win.
Stunned by an unexpected Athletic goal in the sixth minute — the first goal they had conceded in five La Liga matches — Diego Simeone’s hombres recovered quickly and went on to conquer the new San Mamés for the second time this season.
Mind you, this is a site neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona were able to come out triumphantly from.
But, we’re not Real or Barça, we’re the leaders of the league and Saturday night’s victory was a tremendous morale-booster in our dream quest for a 10th league title.
Los Rojiblancos now lead the Primera División in away wins with 11, and their current point total of 76 is the club’s second-highest ever–behind the 87 stacked up the last time they won La Liga in 1995-96.
Our fourth defeat of los Leones in four tries in this campaign gave us our 36th win, the most ever for Atlético in a single season.
Are there still any non-believers left out there?
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “We don’t have the talent Real and Barça have, but we have a team”
“We played a great match,” living legend Diego Simeone said following his squad’s tour de force in the Basque Country.
“The team bounced back out of commitment, and never suffered from conceding the goal. We remain in an important position.
“Let us enjoy it.”
‘Cholo’ continued: “These were three very valuable points at a difficult ground. It has been one of our best league games.”
The Argentine manager doesn’t think the effort put into this bout will affect his men’s performance against Barça in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.
“We enjoyed this triumph and there are still a lot of hours left,” he said.
“For us, there are so many hours. At this stage, we don’t even know what city we’re sleeping in.”
Asked if this Atleti side reminds him of the Doblete squad from the 1995-96 season Simeone starred on, he said: “It wouldn’t be nice to compare them. That success was achieved with our identity, while this Atleti is establishing a style of play, made up of the same essence the club have always had: being strong, competitive, attuned, counterattacking…we don’t have the talent that Madrid and Barça have, but we do have a team.”
He scores, we win!
Stunning stat: The last 31 games that Diego Costa has scored in, los Colchoneros have won. In the 51 games that Costa has gotten his name on the scoresheet with Atleti, the club have only lost once (at Manzano’s Sevilla on 3 October 2010).
“He keeps growing day-to-day,” Simeone remarked about his deadly attacker.
“He’s got an enormous amount of physical strength and it rubs off on his teammates.”
The ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ now has a league goal for every year of his age (25), and on Saturday bagged his 100th as a professional (5 Peñafiel; 1 Braga; 6 Celta; 9 Albacete; 8 Valladolid; 10 Rayo; and 61 Atlético).
The Spain international’s total in La Liga of 25 goals leaves him with a decent chance of catching up to league-leader Cristiano, who has found the back of the net 28 times.
“Diego is just incredible,” teammate Koke gushed about his favourite target.
“He’s spectacular, and hopefully he continues to be–with us.”
The Beast, with 33 goals overall in the present term, is now just 3 goals away from Falcao’s best mark of 36 and 1 away from El Tigre’s total from last season of 34.
Costa was replaced by David Villa in injury time and appeared a bit banged up, but the club clarified afterwards that the lethal forward was totally fine and injury free.
Iker Muniain’s amazing early goal brought back bad memories of Atleti’s shocking loss in Pamplona from a little over a month ago.
In that clash, Osasuna also struck at the six-minute mark and went on to win 3-0, as Atleti never overcame that premature concession.
But our Resurrector, Jorge Resurreción Merodio, on sacred soil — it’s known as the ‘Cathedral’ after all — brought us back to life Saturday night.
Though Costa went on to do all the leg work for our equaliser in the 22nd minute, he had received the ball from Koke, who exquisitely — with one touch — intercepted an errant Athletic pass and simultaneously re-directed the ball to the Beast.
That majestic stroke of brilliance was good for the 22-year-old’s 16th assist of the season, and 12th in La Liga.
Together with Cesc Fàbregas, Koke leads all of Europe in the category.
Oh, and he also scored the match-winner–his 6th goal in 2013-14.
“He’s a very important player,” coach Simeone said.
“Tactically, he interprets the game phenomenally. He’s among the best in La Liga and everything he achieves is because of the effort he puts in.”
“After such an intense game, everything hurts,” Koke admitted after the heroic victory.
“We have some days to rest and must now focus on the Champions League. We knew we were going to play at a very difficult ground. They were playing for a lot, as were we, and it was evident from the intensity of the encounter. It has been a complicated match, but we were able to take the three points.”
He continued: “We knew we’d have space, because they play with a very high line, and that’s how we found Costa on the first goal, and I was able to score the second and am very happy about it.
“This Atleti have no ceiling. Each match is a final and that’s how we play. We have a final on Tuesday and another one on Saturday, and that’s how it will be until the end of the season.”
- While Thibaut Courtois unfortunately didn’t add to his remarkable shutout total this time around, he did add to his ever-growing collection of legendary saves. In the 80th minute, Athletic spark plug Gaizka Toquero — who’s been a bit of a terror for Atleti in recent years — crossed the ball into the goalie box in the 80th minute. Aritz Aduriz jumped between Miranda and Juanfran and easily beat the pair to the ball, making solid contact with his head and directing the ball where any other goalkeeper in the universe would never have gotten to, except of course, our ‘Tibu’. Our Belgian ‘White Chocolate’ instinctively reached out his right hand and pushed the ball out with the fingers he’d later use to count the points he managed to salvage.
- Right back Juanfran suited up for Atleti for the 150th time on Saturday, celebrating the milestone in memorable fashion.
- Gabi picked up his 10th yellow card of the season, though it will surely be appealed, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be available for Villarreal’s visit next weekend. Our captain was harshly booked for a handball, as he had his arms very closely tucked to his sides with no intention of using them to play the ball.