Three almost identical freekicks brought Atlético the three points from la Rosaleda tonight.
Atlético hadn’t scored from an indirect freekick in this year’s campaign, but after tonight our tally is up to three.
Simão delivered each one, with Tiago scoring two and assisting the other.
It came as no surprise that the match was decided by set pieces, because neither side was able to create any big goalscoring opportunities.
Quique Sánchez Flores again chose to start with three centre midfielders, which gave Atleti a lot of stability in midfield, but took away all of our creativity.
It was a lopsided 4-4-2 with Raúl García again on the right side of our midfield. The biggest surprise in the line-up was Reyes’ role, with the Andalusian playing immediately behind Kun Agüero.
Our star striker Diego Forlán was benched and wouldn’t feature at all tonight, with Quique perhaps resting him ahead of our upcoming Copa del Rey tie against Espanyol.
After 22 minutes Atlético took the lead, in what really was the first real opportunity of the night. Simão curled in a freekick from the left side and Tiago headed it into the sidenetting of the far post.
The home team wasn’t able to worry De Gea, although Duda did force the goalkeeper to make a save after nobody touched his curling freekick.
Málaga coach Manuel Pellegrini made his intentions clear with an offensive double substitution at half time, but Atlético easily held on with practically eight defenders and very good performances by Tiago and Raúl García.
It was the former who allowed Álvaro Domínguez to double our lead in the 66th minute. Málaga failed to clear another Simão freekick, and Tiago squared it for the defender who couldn’t miss.
It was Domínguez’ first ever goal for Atlético in his 66th appearance.
Only three minutes later our Portuguese duo decided the match. The set up was identical from our first goal, with Simão again providing Tiago. The midfielder was left entirely free inside the box by a failing Málaga defence.
The Anchovies only tested De Gea with shots from outside the area. In the 76th minute this almost led to a goal when Domínguez deflected a shot, but our young goalie responded in time and stretched to prevent an unfortunate goal.
One minute before the end, substitute Quincy Owusu-Abeyie was granted Málaga’s biggest opportunity of the night after Filipe slipped up, but the Ghanaian hit the sidenetting.
It must be said that Atlético didn’t create any chances from open play all night, but our solid formation laid the foundation of today’s comfortable win.
Today’s victory leaves us just two points off a Champions League spot in la Liga. On Wednesday we play our final match of the year, when we host Espanyol in the first leg of our Copa del Rey encounter.
Line-up: De Gea; Ujfalusi, Perea, Domínguez, Filipe; Raúl García (“87 Valera), Tiago, Assunção, Simão; Reyes (“80 Fran Mérida) and Agüero (“”71 Diego Costa).
Goals: 0-1 Tiago (“22); 0-2 Domínguez (“66); 0-3 Tiago (“69).