The midweek Copa del Rey beating that Atletico Madrid suffered at the hands of their city rivals in the Bernabeu was probably the first real jolt that they have had in a season that sees them sitting three points clear at the top of La Liga, ahead of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. The question now is how the experience will shape the remainder of their season.
A few years ago, Manchester United went across the city to Maine Road to face a derby game with City. It turned into a bit of a kicking for the away team and Julian Goater – he of the “feed the goat and he will score” fame – ran the United defence ragged.
Afterwards, a naive interviewer asked Sir Alex Ferguson whether games like that “will cost you the league?” In typical britstling fashion the United manager replied that games like that “will win us the league.” It was meant to convey that a kick up the backside is always useful to keep people’s eyes on the target and re-double their application. United duly went on to win the league. Do Atli have the same resilience?
What is almost certainly true is that their cup run is at an end. Even if they could play the banned Diego Costa, turning round a three goal deficit against Real Madrid is beyond being a mountain to climb. The cup competition in Spain however is very much minor fare compared to the La Liga, and it will be the potential effect on league form that will concern Atletico manager Diego Simeone more.
For months now, people have expected Atli’s form to blow up and with that, Barca and Real to sweep past and contest the league title between them as has been the norm. To date however, the ‘other team’ from the capital have been steadfast in their form and if anything it is the ‘big two’ that have faltered, hence the three points lead. As we now get down to the business end of the season however, the need to win games will grow and with many of Atletico’s players unused to this sort of ever-heightening pressure, Simeone will have it all on to keep his team in pole position.
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