After Real Madrid’s slip up against Bilbao on Saturday, Colchoneros around the world were calculating the distance from our title rivals, and daring to dream yet again.
This dream was shot down by Shkodran Mustafi, as the defender made the most of Moya’s mishap 78 minutes into Sunday night’s draw with Valencia.
The game was billed as a ‘battle for third’ – and a battle it was. The game saw 13 bookings in total, including two for Javi Fuego, and by the end of the night 41 fouls had been committed.
This favoured certain sections of the Spanish press, always keen to label Atleti as ‘dirty’, more than it did the home side. Atleti couldn’t take control and in turn they couldn’t put the game to bed.
Whether Tiago managed to catch any sleep last night is still uncertain. Many rojiblancos suffered from nightmares of the Portuguese veteran’s point blank miss that would have surely wrapped up the three points – and levelled the head-to-head between both sides.
But it wasn’t to be, and with only five points out of a possible 12 from the last four games, the reinstatement of a two-horse race at the top of La Liga is almost complete.
But, is this a disappointment?
Post-game notes and quotes
Diego Simeone – “Our championship, as we have always said, is competing against Valencia and Sevilla.”
Our Argentine leader serving up some I told you so at the post game conference. Does anyone else still believe he’s playing mind games?
“We play with the characteristics of Raúl and Fernando Torres to give depth to the team and more work in the centre of the field,” he said.
He is of course referring to the real Raul. Both Raúl Garcia and Torres both embodied the fighting warrior spirit (well, we are Los Indios) and drove the team forward in a way that chieftain Simeone would have done in his playing days.
We played a great first half. We played in the their half, pressuring their backs very well and won all the duels,” Simeone continued. “It is a fair result but I’ll take the work of the first half which was very good.”
The first half was almost a throwback to the efforts shown last season and it is no coincidence that this coincided with the return of midfield maestro Koke.
The first half performance was dominating but without the French goal machine Griezmann, it was a harder task to achieve the final product.
“In the second half, we didn’t play in the same way…we played 10-15 metres deeper and didn’t press well, so a draw is a fair result,” Simeone conceded.
“I will not give you a headline by saying that we are fighting for La Liga.”
Would you expect any different? Even if Atleti were ten points clear at the top I doubt the Argentine would make such a statement.
Winning La Liga brings these pressures and expectations, and without the backing of untold millions the task is harder than Atletico make it seem.
Godin shared Simeone’s script
“Our rivals are Sevilla and Valencia. We only need to win,” our defender told the press.
The Uruguayan, whose headers last season gave us our ‘La Decima’ and almost prevented Real Madrid achieving theirs, repeated his managers mantra.
“It was not a hard game, it was the interpretation of the referee”
Godin, who currently sits top of the table for most yellow cards in our team, rubbished claims that the game was overly physical – Otamendi’s nose may disagree.
“We played against very good rivals, that’s why they’re at the point they’re at,” Godin admitted. “We are going to continue thinking about the next match.”
Partido a partido reigns supreme. The formula that has brought about the recent successes at the club is still adhered to religiously.
“In football you either lose or you tie or you win.” Godin with that bombshell – highlighting how despite the domination of his team-mates, the performance counts for little as we only come away with a point.
Resurrecting the midfield
The return of Koke to the starting eleven was a huge boost and his presence was a key factor in the confident first half display.
Unfortunately his goal wasn’t enough to win the game but having him back in the team is worth its weight in gold.
The canterano currently has 8 assists but as his development rapidly increases, don’t be surprised to see him surpass his last season’s total of 13 assists in La Liga.
Koke’s thundering volley last night was only his second goal in La Liga but it’s his work-rate, vision and pin-point accuracy that make him invaluable to Atleti.
Also, with Koke back expect to see Arda’s performance levels rise as the Turk has struggled to be the sole creative midfielder these past few weeks.
The final thoughts
- Miguel Angel Moya spurned the chance to move into second in the clean sheet table after his misjudgement last night. He would have surpassed Casillas, who shares his compatriots tally of 11. It would have been a huge achievement seeing as he was plying his trade at Getafe only months ago.
- Siqueira’s yellow card means the Brasilian will miss next weeks away game at Espanyol through suspension. This should see Gamez return to the team as the mysterious absence of Ansaldi seems to continue.
- Mandzukic will also miss next weeks game due to, yes you guessed it, amassing too many yellow cards. The Croatian is currently Atleti’s top scorer with 20 in all competitions but was benched for yesterdays match and rumours of a fall out between him and Simeone are gaining some momentum.
- Fernando Torres, Atleti’s poster boy, started up front against Los Che and continued his run of good form with an energetic performance. His header back into the crowded box eventually found its way to the right boot of Koke to give his boyhood club the lead. Will we be seeing more of Torres in the starting line up with Mandzukic being out of favour?
- Jose Maria Gimenez could possibly be back in the starting eleven after a strong showing against one of La Liga’s best attacking teams. The understudy to Godin replaced Miranda, who was suspended because of… do I really need to say, and despite 5 games without playing held his own.
Luis is an Atlético fan stranded in the UK – you can read more of his thoughts by following him on Twitter under the username @Luis_Muscat. He’ll be joining us every week for a review of the post-match action.