It was at home. It was Quique Sanchez Flores’ last match at the Vicente Calderón. It was against an already relegated and severely banged-up Hércules side. But…it wasn’t easy.
In the end, a spectacular volley by Jose Antonio Reyes sealed Atlético’s spot in next season’s edition of the Europa League–los Rojiblancos’ fifth consecutive qualification for UEFA club competition.
All knotted up at 55 points with Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao ahead of the last match of the 2010-11 campaign, Atleti’s final challenge will be to secure a straight ticket into the Europa League group stage by finishing in fifth or sixth place in la Liga.
It will take a big win in Mallorca next Sunday, where we haven’t come out victorious since 2004 and where a side fighting to hold on to their top-flight status await us.
Quique makes graceful exit from the Calderón
In spite of all the fuss about his feud with Diego Forlan, the vast majority of fans showed their gratitude towards Quique in his last home match with Atleti, chanting the manager’s name throughout, and even well after, the clash.
“They have pushed us forward during the most difficult moments of the season,” Quique said of the Rojiblanco supporters in the post-match press conference. “I’m very thankful to all of them for their unconditional support. It’s been a difficult week but fortunately the team has won and is in Europe.”
The coach then expressed satisfaction about his job and that of his coaching staff since they assumed command of the squad last season.
“Since we arrived here, the team has progressed. We left a legacy of cantera, titles, European qualification…those are the types of objectives you wish to achieve when you take part at any club,” he told the club’s official site, before warning that “the season isn’t over.”
“We have to go to Mallorca with the mindset of playing a good match, and try to win to end the season the best way possible,” he said.
Dominguez scores his first goal at home
It’s been a tough year for Alvaro Dominguez, who, following a sensational breakout 2009-10 season, has had to swallow his pride while riding the bench for much of the current campaign.
But on Sunday, the defender, who celebrates his 22nd birthday Monday, found a little redemption by netting the game’s opening goal in just the second minute.
“It has been a very important goal,” he said. “It’s the first one I score at the Calderón and in front of our fans. It’s a reward for all of my hard work throughout the year.”
The youth product’s goal celebration included some badge kissing and group hugging, but what it didn’t appear to include was any ounce of support from Quique, who, as we all know, hasn’t gotten along well with the player this season.
Pulido makes “dream debut” in la Liga
“It was the debut I dreamed of, in front of my family, and I’m very happy about the victory,” defender Jorge Pulido told the press after the game. “I thank Quique for having placed me in the starting eleven and I wish him luck in the next stage he is set to begin in his professional career.”
It’s unclear whether the 20-year-old dreamed that his debut would include unfairly being booked for conceding a penalty kick which is then magnificently saved by David de Gea.
De Gea’s penalty save was his third of the season
Goalkeeper David de Gea, who has started all 37 league matches to date this campaign, has saved three of the nine penalties taken against him in la Liga in his young career.
Sunday’s denial of David Trezeguet’s spot kick was De Gea’s third penalty save of the 2010-11 season. Two of them came in domestic league action, with the first one of course being his epic save against Diego Milito in the Super Cup.
Juanfran laments not being able to score one for his dad
Winger Juanfran returned to the squad and was hoping to honour his father, who passed away last weekend, by adding his name to the scoresheet. In the final minutes of the match, Reyes fed the former Osasuna-man what would’ve been a sitter had Kun not intercepted the pass.
“It would’ve been very special to score,” said Juanfran. “I really wanted to so that I could dedicate it to my father, but it could not be. I have yet to play many matches and surely I will be able to score goals to offer up to him.”
Poor Kun. Talk about a guilt trip.
Reyes scores his seventh goal of season
After a series of sub-par performances, ‘la Perla’ was back in electric form and reaped the fruits of his labour by netting last night’s match winner with a lovely strike from outside the box.
It was the 27-year-old’s sixth league goal and seventh of the season, his first one being the opener against Inter Milan in the Super Cup. Not quite the target of 10 goals set by his coach before the season kicked off, but an impressive total nonetheless.
Forlan watched the match from the stands alongside Godín
AS reports Quique made the decision to leave Forlan off the match selection before Saturday, but wanted to avoid causing up a stir in the media. All the coach did was delay the commotion until Sunday morning, when it was announced the Uruguayan striker would be replaced by Borja.
‘La Rubia’ sat in the stands with countryman Diego Godin, and was sadly denied the opportunity to bid the Atlético faithful farewell in what was likely going to be his last appearance in red and white.
According to AS, NTV Spor of Turkey report Besiktas and Atlético have agreed to an €11m deal for Forlan. The 31-year-old, who would be reuniting with good friend Simao Sabrosa, is purportedly set to earn €4m a year with the Turkish outfit.
We’ll have to wait and see if there is any substance behind this latest rumour.
Stat of the day
Sunday’s starting XI against Hércules, which featured 5 home grown players, was Atleti’s youngest of the season. The average age of the squad came in at 23.7 years old. It was also the match that included the most Spanish-born players in our starting line-up this season, with 8 (Info Atleti).