Atlético finally got their first win of 2011 by beating Mallorca 3-0 to close out the halfway point in sixth place. Our total of 30 points is an improvement over the 23 points we had amassed at the midway mark last season, but is still well short of our Champions League target.
Manager Quique Sanchez Flores shook up the line-up ahead of the clash following a set of sub-par performances by his squad and an untimely injury to Sergio Agüero.
Banished to the bench were Filipe Luis and Alvaro Dominguez, who suffered the consequences of their costly circus-like antics of last week, and in came Antonio Lopez, Diego Godin and Juan Valera.
Perea was the other odd man out, but his punishment didn’t come from his coach. The Colombian endured the effects of a nasty overnight illness that led to fever and stomach problems, leaving him unavailable for the tie.
Nonetheless, Atleti overcame all the commotion and played composedly in all sectors of the pitch, and all of Quique’s bets paid off…including his eyebrow-raising wager on Valera.
The victorious Rojiblancos were sent-off by an energised Vicente Calderón, site of Thursday’s return leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Real Madrid. Los Colchoneros vie to turn around their 3-1 deficit against their capital foes.
“We got the message from the crowd,” said Quique, referring to the late-game chants at the Calderón calling for the players to put ‘huevos’ (or courage and determination) into Thursday’s derby clash.
“We know what these bouts against Real Madrid mean to the fans,” he told the club’s official site.
“We have to come out to play and score early.”
Elias finally makes debut
Apart from the now-standard pre-game uproar concerning Quique’s line-up decisions, the buzz and excitement prior to kick off revolved around new signing Elias’ appearance in the starting XI. It was tough to tell the Brazilian apart from his similarly-built compatriot Assuncao, and just like when trying to distinguish identical twins from each other, you start picking up on the little details that help to differentiate the two.
Elias had black cleats, Paulo sported bright green ones. Elias had on a long sleeve jersey, Paulo wore a red long sleeve undershirt. Elias had a shot, Paulo didn’t.
The amusing game of picking out one from the other aside, the former Corinthians man’s first act with his new club was largely unexceptional. Mediocre even. It’s best to take the coach’s advice on the matter.
“Elias has to continue getting to know the team and the players,” said Quique. “It’s not easy to play in the best league in the world. We have to give him time.”
De Gea is a fortress
David de Gea continues to offer extraordinary security. The 20-year-old is a one-man fortress, and when he’s on his best day our opponents must feel like they are up against a 4-4-4-2 formation.
Following a week in which he stomached seven goals against, it must have been very redeeming for De Gea to salvage the clean sheet by making seven saves, including his thrilling penalty block that re-invigorated a nervous Calderón worried about seeing the three points slip away.
Valera summed up his keeper’s performance nicely after the game, telling the official site that “it’s no longer news when David has a game like this one.”
It’s always news when Valera has a game like this one
It’s not quite clear who the benefactor of Perea’s sickness was, but my money is on right-back Valera. The defender sent shock-waves around the world by opening up the scoring on Monday just 13 minutes into the encounter.
The 26-year-old semi-heroically and inexplicably ended the game as the match-winning goal-scoring captain, following Antonio Lopez’s expulsion and Diego Forlan’s substitution in the second half.
Come on now. Coming into this match, what would have been more believable? A comeback victory over Real Madrid this week, or Valera semi-heroically and inexplicably ending the game as the match-winning goal-scoring captain? Impossible is nothing.
Fran Merida shines again
Another fine showing by the catalan playmaker Fran Mérida, who according to Quique “played a great match with the liberty offered by playing as the ‘mediapunta’.”
The 20-year-old’s main highlight clip will certainly be the pass he sent in to Forlán that sliced Mallorca in two before the Uruguayan coolly kissed in the ball for our second goal. Almost as impressive as his pass though was Mérida’s effort to pry the ball loose from Mallorca central defender Rubén in midfield before putting in his assist to Cachavacha.
Not to spoil the Fran party or anything but, it must be mentioned that the Barcelona youth product bungled a wide-open chance that fell into his lap following a well-executed corner by Reyes. No harm, no foul though.
Tiago gives us a backbone
With Raul Garcia at the helm, our midfield resembles some sort of puny, primitive, spineless worm. Tiago’s return offered us much more presence in the centre and it was a real treat to see the –now– former Portuguese international provide us with a backbone in what was among his more solid performances of the year.
Reyes more dangerous playing invertedly
Reyes is a lot more explosive on the right wing and is extremely dangerous when he tears inside toward the box. He’s blood-thirsty for goals and is becoming a real menace with his shots from outside the penalty area. He’s netted in back-to-back Mondays now. Let’s hope he catches fire and starts scoring more goals so we don’t have to dwell on the temporary, but very painful loss of Kun.
What to do with Juanfran?
Among the many line-up dilemmas in Quique’s hands right now is what to do with Juanfran, given that Reyes is more valuable on the right.
The former Osasuna man doesn’t play left-wing so if he’s on the field along with Reyes it forces la Perla to man the left flank, minimising his potential.
Juanfran was surprisingly left on the bench in the first half, but came in to replace Elias. He wasn’t involved much as we coasted to victory, but did intervene nicely in the play leading up to our third goal.
Antonio Lopez blows his chance
Filipe’s benching re-opened the door for Antonio Lopez to start at left-back, but our good ‘ole’ captain promptly slammed the door shut on his fingers by getting himself sent-off and gifting Mallorca a penalty that, if it had been converted, would have likely led to all-out-chaos.
De Gea will probably be sending Lopez a bottle of champagne for allowing him the opportunity to flaunt his god-like talent though.
Stat of the day
Yesterday, Atleti bagged their 8th league shutout (7th at home) of the season. At the midway point last year, we only had 3. Is this a testament to our improved defence, or do we owe De Gea all the credit?
What were your impressions on all the line-up changes? Don’t be shy, we love to hear your thoughts!