When Diego Costa ran in to lace a penalty into the top corner of the Valencia net and give his team a 3-0 lead, it was his 17th goal in 15 games – paralleling the record of Ronaldo at Real Madrid. It’s a little heralded stat outside of Spain however, and Costa does not carry the same aura as the Portuguese. In a balance of worth however, there is little to choose between them.
More significant for Atletico Madrid however, it meant that just one more goal against a tiring opponent would have taken Atli to the summit of La Liga, and displaced Barcelona from their perch at the top for the first time in over a year. “Una mas” came the shout from coach Diego Simeone. No matter how hard they pressed, however Atli couldn’t get that fourth goal, and Barca’s run at the top continues. But for how long?
The Blaugrana are well used to tussling for top spot with a Madrid club, but it’s normally Los Blancos of Real, rather than the capital’s perennial ‘second team’ Atletico. This year however is different and Simeone has the Atli fans in raptures as they leave their more illustrious neighbours in their wake in the chase after the Catalans. This season has even seen them go to the Bernabeu and humble Madrid with a deserved victory.
Already in the Roun of 16 of the Champions’ League, Atli players and fans would have been mildly amused to hear AC Milan’s Sully Muntari declare that he wanted his team to draw Atletico in the knockout stage, as they were the weakest of the clubs left. Given that Atletico had gone through their group stage unbeaten, amassing sixteen points on the way, It will be interesting to know just how aware of the current state of Spanish football Muntari is. If the answer to that is ‘not very’ the odds are that a lesson will be on the way if Simeone’s team continue their scintillating form.
The last time Atli were so high in La Liga at this stage of the season was almost ten years ago, and they went on to securethe double that season. As the season wears on, it’s possible that the Atletico challenge may diminish and fall away, but there’s no sign of that yet. Someone remains a ‘coming man’ in the ranks of Europe’s top managers, promising to show the outstanding tactical and motivational nous that he carried as a player. As the rise of his Atli team continues, tat reputation is only going to grow.
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