Atletico look like a reasonable long shot for La Liga.
In some ways they are the best team in Spain. ‘Team’ in the sense of a collective effort and making the most of every talent they have.
Obviously they’re not better than Barcelona, but their defence looks tighter and wins more balls – they have to, the side can’t keep possession for 70% of the match as Barcelona can.
They have the best defence in the league, judged on this game, but you’d have to back Barcelona’s goal power to be the decisive factor in this year’s competition.
As a team they are far more cohesive than Real Madrid, whose defence is all over the shop. In two games in four days Real used four different full backs and all struggled.
Centre half Sergio Ramos then switched to full back for the Champions League on Tuesday and that shows Ancelotti doesn’t know his best team. That makes Real great to watch because you know Bale and Ronaldo will score or set up two or three goals a game – it’s just a question of how many the back four can prevent.
Anyway, back to Atletico, the bridesmaid of the Madrid big guns. 53,000 in the Vicente Calderon for second v fifth.
In fact Atletico looked way stronger than their lower ranked rivals and are currently more cohesive than Real – it’s no surprise they won at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this season.
No big names jumped out at you but on the pitch the replacement for Falcao, who joined moneybags Monaco, is Brazilian Diego Costa. He’s just turned down Brazil upsetting the notably fiery Phil Scolari and is set to become available for Spain. If so he’ll surely be an asset in their World Cup bid.
He was tremendous. Put through on goal by Koke (great name) late in the first half he showed great power and strength to muscle away centre half challenges and score from a sharp-ish angle. Best of the 17 goals I saw in this Madrid football break.
Eight minutes earlier, David Villa neatly volleyed in a difficult rebound for his fourth goal in eight days. Nice nickname – he’s known as El Guaje – ‘The Kid’, over here. He and his strike partner are a good pair. One’s got silky touch and intelligence, the other has brute power and energy to chase everything. Should go far in the Champions League this year.
But after Rayo v Real the night before this was something of a damp squib once the goals had gone in. Bilbao had little to offer against such a mean defence. Can’t recall many sides winning as many 50/50 balls or tackles as Atletico did in this match. Deeply impressive. If they can finagle a win over Barcelona somehow they ‘ve a chance of sneaking the title.
In fact it made Rayo seem even more valiant and glorious – 11,000 people there generated more spectator voltage than five times as many at the Manzanares. And, despite being told there was a nasty section at Atletico, there seemed no evidence of Nazis in the Fondo Sur.