Madridista, colchonero, azulgrana, lo que sea. It doesn’t matter who you cheer for – if you don’t have at least a little lovin’ for Diego Simeone and his Atlético de Madrid squad, I question your fidelity to fútbol, your love of the beautiful game. Because what these guys exemplify – and their ability to execute their particular style – is truly unprecedented. It’s second to none, and last night’s 2-1 UEFA Champions League win over FC Barcelona proved it.
Despite a 72–28 possession advantage and what seemed like hours worth of crosses into the box, Barcelona couldn’t knock its rigid, unbreakable opponent to the ground. Filipe Luis was a force down the left flank, Gabi was as gutsy as ever (that flick out with Piqué coming in on goal though!), and the Vicente Calderón was the twelfth man of all of our dreams, inspired and set ablaze by Cholo’s animated arms and always enlivened energy.
At one point during the latter stages of the second half, I thought to myself, “Calm the fuck down, Atleti. Regain control. Inhale. Exhale. Deep breaths.” Then I remembered who we’re dealing with here. Lesson learned: never tell Cholo and Atleti that they need to calm down.
Antoine Griezmann’s heroic header and smooth penalty finish were the difference – 3-2 global mark in Atleti’s favor, cup holders conquered. (Pour one out for the Barça fans among us).
Mental and physical fatigue seemed to be weighing pretty heavily on the Barça boys. Many will make a point of highlighting Lionel Messi’s five-game scoreless (and assist-less) streak – the first of his career – and the 452 minutes he’s gone without being able to find the back of the net. But Atleti’s continued obedience and rigid adherence to Cholo’s game plan (this despite many of us thinking that the days of Diego Costa, Copa del Rey glory, and UCL finals were history) are the ultimate deal breakers – and soul crushers for opposition fans. This is the best defensive team in all of Europe’s top five leagues. They boast an unbelievable 0.5 goals conceded/game average, bettering even Bayern Munich en route to a record of 29 clean sheets and 26 goals conceded in 48 games this season.
Graham Hunter put it beautifully in his match review for ESPN FC, stating that Atleti “rise above circumstances. Under Diego Simeone, they are not just ferociously competitive, running until they’re fit to drop, imbued with a total one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit…I remind you again that Xavi believes Atleti are as good at enforcing their particular brand of football as Barcelona, at their best, are exemplary at enforcing theirs.”
I’ll tell you one thing – this is not a team I want my favorite futbolistas to face in UCL semifinal action. A team that holds Barça scoreless and runs circles around them (12k worth of circling to be sure) is not a team I’m trying to fuck with. Tomorrow we’ll find out who the unlucky recipients of a visit from Cholo and co. will be.