Expectations were sky high for Atlético after successive home wins against Celtic and Racing, and they did not disappoint in this evening’s meeting with Sporting Gijón.
It was a night to savour in the Vicente Calderón as record signing Radamel Falcao added to his hat-trick at the weekend with a further two goals, and many will argue that he should have had another treble if not for referee Iturralde González.
Manzano made five changes from the team that set Racing aside on Sunday, replacing the absent Diego and Tiago with Koke and Gabi, as well as resting Mario Suárez and Reyes in favour of Assunção and Salvio. Also coming into the team was the fit-again Sílvio, taking Perea’s place at right-back.
Atlético came flying out of the traps, dominating the early exchanges and setting a high tempo from the off.
There were two occasions within the first ten minutes when the home side will feel that they should have taken the lead, but the man in the middle thought otherwise. Firstly, Falcao was clearly upended by Sporting defender Botía, but much to the home fans dismay a corner was given instead of a penalty.
Moments later, Falcao headed Gabi’s corner into the net for what should have been his fifth goal in a week, but again the whistle was blown, for what we can only assume to be a foul on his own team-mate, Salvio.
However, Atléti were not disheartened and continued to knock on the door, with former canteranos Koke and Dominguez both coming close through headers.
Atlético’s dominance soon paid off though, and once again it was Radamel Falcao who forced the goal. In a similar fashion to his disallowed effort, Gabi’s corner found ‘El Tigre’, who attacked the ball with purpose before seeing his right-footed effort deflect off Alberto Lora into the back of the net.
Sporting’s only chance of the half came from Ricardo León, who curled just over Thibaut Courtois’s goal near the end of the half. Four minutes before the break, Falcao had yet another opportunity, but his close range effort was blocked by Cuéllar, a goalkeeper who had spent six years at the Calderón earlier in his career.
The away side came out with more purpose in the second period and caused a few moments of unrest, but midway through the half Atlético found their second goal, and it was the captain who provided it.
As he had done numerous times in the first half, Gabi delivered an inviting corner into the box, and this time it was met by Álvaro Domínguez, crashing in at the back post to put daylight between the two teams.
Moments earlier, the influential Falcao had seen a sublime curling effort rebound off of the crossbar.
Up until this point, the Colombian had done just about everything but score, although he was not to be denied. After latching on to a ball over the top, Falcao held off a series of challenges before turning and firing low past Cuellar for the third.
Still though, he and Atlético were not done. Ten minutes from the end, Gabi floated in yet another perfect set piece, and Falcao rose highest to plant a trademark header into the top corner.
The fans in the Calderón had been in full voice throughout the match, and were roaring with approval of their new idol right up until the final whistle. ‘El Tigre’ now has a total of 6 goals in four appearances for his new club, but his next challenge may be the toughest yet.
On Saturday, Atlético travel to the Camp Nou to take on champions Barcelona, although after scoring ten goals without reply in the last week, confidence will be at it’s highest in a long time. Kick-off in Catalonia is at 22:00 CET.
Line-up: Courtois; Sílvio (“76 Adrián), Miranda, Domínguez, Filipe; Assunção (“61 Mario Suárez), Koke (“69 Reyes), Gabi; Arda, Salvio, Falcao.
Goals: 1-0 Lora og (“28), 2-0 Domínguez (“68), 3-0 Falcao (“72), 4-0 Falcao (“80)