After a few weeks in the sun and relaxing, VLL decided it was time to dust off the cobwebs from the laptop, prepare a bocadillo and kick off its La Liga coverage. Yes, the league started last weekend but we were very busy sipping cocktails while not trying to turn shrimp red on a sandy beach. But those days are over and work calls and so off to the first live game of the season we went and where better than the Vicente Calderon, where Atlético faced their third game of the week and the strange thing was that no one was complaining.
Madrid in August is like a ‘Ghost Town’ but still a pretty decent crowd got into the ground in time to see that the sprinklers were working. Atleti do water the pitch and it’s possible that Xavi and Dani Alves may have tucked into a bunch of sour grapes after the 1st leg of the Spanish Supercup. Their comments surprised VLL for the simple reason that in the 6-7 years that we have gone to the Calderon, under-watering the pitch has never happened. In fact it is always the opposite, sometimes it is so bad that teams are forced to come out wearing snorkels!
Anyhow moving on to tonight’s game, it was the first Madrid derby of the season and Diego Simeone promised that Atleti were only thinking of this game and no other. And we believed him until we saw the starting XI. Raúl Garcia is one of Simeone’s favourite but not a regular and Tiago got a rare start. The funny thing is that technically Tiago is a free agent as he hasn’t signed his new contract yet. A gentlemen’s agreement is in place but one wonders if Tiago is right to agree anything with two men that are anything but gentlemen. But you live and learn and we are sure than Tiago has invested his money wisely and saved some for a rainy day just in case the printer runs out of ink and a new contract never appears.
Atleti were supposed to struggle a little this season according to some commentators which is slightly baffling considering that they have managed to keep the team together. Of course Falcao has gone but David Villa has replaced him and Diego Costa has decided to up his presence and responsibility too. The defence, still can’t believe we are able to say this, is the rock on which the side is built and has been left unchanged. Arda Turan is still there and so too is Koke, Gabi and Mario Suárez. Way too often Atleti were labelled a one man team last season by people who watched just the goals from games. Yes, Falcao played a major part but Atleti were more than that. They now have Villa who on just tonight’s display worked harder than Falcao during his entire spell at the club. Costa, love or hate but it would be better to love because he may track you down otherwise, continues to develop as a forward and then waiting is Leo Baptistao who at Rayo was great and there are no signs to say he won’t continue to progress. What we saw against Rayo is that there are fringe players that are willing and ready to fight for whatever chances they can get.
As is typical under Simeone, Atleti lost most of the statistical battles. Rayo beat them for possession, aerial duels and succesful passing but those aren’t the figures that appear on the big screen are they? No, they are not. Five goals in a solid display, where with Wednesday on their mind, Atlético took their foot off the pedal and decided that Rayo had had enough. Goals from Tiago, Diego Costa, Arda Turan and a brace from Raúl Garcia show that Simeone is looking to improve on last season and some of the weaknesses that were exposed in the second half of the season.
Against Barca during the week we saw an Atleti that were strong, determined and calculated. They let Barca have the ball but they didn’t allow them to do anything with it. Last season Atleti based most of their football on counter attacks and it worked but the problem was that the counter attacks only had one route, down the left. When sides, possibly the first being La Real in the VC, figured this out, Los Rojiblancos suffered. This season, so far, Atleti are still attacking down the left, why wouldn’t they as its their best asset, but also they are attacking on the right and down the middle. The result is a less predictable and harder to read side. Villa also has a great ability to drag defenders out of position and create space for Costa which means that instead of worrying about one forward, like Falcao last season, opposing defences now need to be alert for two strikers and if Cholo uses Raúl Garcia like he did today, La Liga Coaches will be reaching for headache pills when they face Simeone and co all season.
Rayo on the other hand played exactly like what their Coach said they were after, a ‘shitty’ little club. Jemez was trying to explain that after last season that some may believe that Rayo are grander than they are and Paco wanted to remind them all that the club was one of the smallest in the league and only when everyone knew exactly who they were, could they move forward. Not exactly a ‘Braveheart’ inspiring speech but let’s see if it works.
Around the Grounds
Athletic won their first ‘home game’ against Osasuna. Two wins out of two now but Osasuna are looking like serious relegation candidates with some commentators already suggesting that José Luis Mendilibar is facing the chop. Athletic looked good and organised and the club put on buses for supporters to attend the game in La Real’s Anoeta ground as they haven’t got their new ground quite ready yet. They should have kept Bielsa as he was an expert in getting builders to do things right
That Schuster. Said that Málaga would win, came close though. Sweet goal from Pedro.
Where art thou Gareth? Is he in Marbella? Who knows but there will be plenty of stories to go around.
Villarreal were a goal down and came back to take all three points in their first home game since the drop. Getafe look like it could be a season of woe as they picked up a point against Almería. Levante and Sevilla drew as did Elche and Valladolid.
Espanyol beat Valencia 3-1 at home. Postiga put the away team ahead but goals from López, Stuani and Thievy saw all the spoils remain in Catalonia. Four points from six is a great start for Javier Aguirre.
Things to keep an eye on during the week
Atleti are after Juan Mata and the club have spoken to Chelsea about a loan move. Cholo Simeone smiled and admitted talks were going on with various players after the Rayo game, could Atleti pull this off?
Gareth Bale’s presentation. It has to happen sometime…
Rayo fans are planning to enter the ground 23 minutes after kick off on Friday to protest these ridiculous kick off times but the club have threatened not to let them in. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens there.
Small matter of the Supercup in the ‘we are definitely going to water’ Camp Nou, where Atleti need to score after the 1-1 draw in the first leg.