For a team whose collective philosophy is not to look at the league table and only focus on one single match at a time, Atlético Madrid colooked like a side that quite fancied taking over at the top of La Liga. Leading Valencia by three goals to nil with ten minutes left but needing one more to move into first, the Rojiblancos bombarded the visiting goal with the crowd urging the players on like they were a goal down in the closing stages of a Champions League final. “One more! One more!” was the scream from the sidelines from Diego Simeone.
For a few glorious moments, a veneer of cool, calculated pragmatism broke and Atlético reveled in the possibility of sitting at the top of the league table, but the Calderón club were unable to get the fourth – a missed penalty earlier in the second half didn’t help – so instead Atleti finished the round in second, equal with Barcelona on points and goal difference. Although head-to-head records will ultimately count for league placing, if Atlético can put a decent amount of goals past Levante in the Vicente Calderón next weekend, then there is a very good chance that the club will go into the winter break at the top of the tree.
After the match, with the excitement over, the club’s genius manager was back on message denying that a moment of exhilaration had been allowed to take over his tactical judgment. “I want to win and I always want more in any situation,” argued Simeone. “I don’t want passivity with the team being happy with what they have.”
At half-time, it looked unlikely that Atlético would even be in the situation of having a chance of leading La Liga. Valencia had come to the Spanish capital looking to avoid a defeat of any kind, leading to a quagmire-like stalemate of a match. But when Diego Costa broke the deadlock on the hour mark, Valencia’s fragile resolve collapsed and the home side picked up a fourth consecutive clean sheet in the Calderón, scoring 17 goals in return.
Barcelona were a little sluggish against Villarreal the previous day, but two goals from Neymar, who made it five for the week, were enough to keep the Catalan club at the top of the table in the end. The victory in a match that was a potentially dangerous one for Barca saw a tickled Tata Martino claiming that it was “the game that has left me feeling the most satisfied”.
That happiness would have been short-lived with the Argentinean dealing with what are the biggest problems for any Big Two coach in Spain – off-the-field kerfuffles, this time involving Leo Messi’s father, and stories printed in El Mundo concerning investigations into money laundering by the Spanish police.
Real Madrid’s main concern on Monday is the nation’s referees and the concept that they all have it in for the club. Those were the headlines in the morning papers after the weekend, with the conquests of Atlético Madrid of little concern. The complaint stems from Saturday’s game against Osasuna which ended in a 2-2 draw to leave Carlo Ancelotti’s side five from the top and facing a visit to Mestalla next week without Pepe, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. The first and the last will be absent due to suspension with Ramos picking up his 18th sending-off for Real Madrid.
However, the defender was a little unlucky with two yellow cards being awarded for protesting a non-existent foul and an opposition player walking into his arm. Still, the moaning worked as a useful cover for another failing in Pamplona with Madrid once again unable to deal with Osasuna’s only footballing tactic – chucking crosses into the box in an attempt to find someone’s head.
Next weekend is set up perfectly for a jubilant end to 2013 in La Liga. Barcelona and Atlético Madrid will be attempting to outscore each other against Getafe and Levante respectively, whilst Real Madrid could be kicking off a game in Mestalla with Alvaro Arbeloa as a centre-back to avoid falling eight points behind in the league title chase. It’s squeaky bum time already in Spain.