La Liga: Simeone’s extended stay lifts Atlético
His team has finally ceded second spot to rival Real Madrid, but the Argentine coach’s impact on the perennial underachievers has been huge.
By Halima Ali
The week may have ended on a sour note with a loss at the Vicente Calderón, but Atlético Madrid still have reason to smile with news that coach Diego Simeone has extended his contract at the club.
Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez and Koke all tested their luck in the opening stages against Real Sociedad with long-range strikes from the edge of the area but failed to threaten the visitors’ goal.
The hosts improved after the break but eight minutes after the restart, the Basque side took the lead with a swift counterattack that saw Antoine Griezmann pump the ball up the pitch for Xabi Prieto to run on to. The forward – who was in an offside position – ran into the box unchallenged and struck the ball under keeper Thibaut Courtois.
The solitary goal brought an end to Atleti’s 100-percent home record in the league this season and incredibly, it was the first time Atlético had conceded a goal in the league at the Calderón since October 28.
The result leaves Los Rojiblancos in third place, one point adrift of cross-town rivals Real Madrid, while Real Sociedad move level with fourth-placed Málaga.
Despite the defeat, there is plenty of optimism at the Calderón these days. Just under two weeks ago, Atlético qualified for the Copa del Rey final where they will meet Real Madrid, having spent most of the season ahead of their foes in second position in la liga while José Mourinho’s men have languished in third.
Since Simeone’s arrival, just before Christmas in 2011, the side have been transformed. In his first few months at the club he took the team to the Europa League final, where they emerged triumphant with a 3-0 victory over a much fancied Athletic Bilbao.
Impressive as that seemed, Simeone’s players seemed to signal their intent for this season when they ran riot over Chelsea – the reigning Champions League winners – with a 4-1 win in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup in August.
Atleti were turning heads but while they have won the Europa League before in recent years, the true test of El Cholo’s team has come in la liga, where for the first time in many years, the Madrid club have consistently performed well, and even had their city rivals chasing them for the best part of the season.
A former Atlético player himself, Simeone, who was recently linked to the managerial post at Chelsea, arrived promising to “get the team’s spirit back” and has so far delivered in spades. They may yet wrestle back second spot from Real Madrid but even if they do not, the Argentine’s next aim is Champions League qualification.
Elsewhere, their city rivals followed up Tuesday’s Champions League success at Manchester United with a Cristiano Ronaldo double, to win 2-1 at second-from-bottom Celta Vigo.
Los Merengues were unconvincing but in the second half Ronaldo was quick to pounce on a loose ball and fired in from close range in the 61st minute. The hosts levelled two minutes later when Iago Aspas’s shot deflected off Pepe into the net but Kaká won a 71st-minute penalty, which Ronaldo slotted home for his 19th goal in all competitions since the turn of the year, three more than Lionel Messi.
The Argentine, meanwhile, continued breaking records with his goals against Deportivo La Coruña at the Camp Nou. Alexis Sánchez put the hosts ahead with a free header in the first half while Messi, on as a substitute shortly after the hour mark, exchanged passes with Dani Alves before chipping the ball over goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia to score for the 17th successive league game.
The result was a seventh defeat in eight games for bottom club Depor.
Real Zaragoza 0 – 0 Granada CF
Atlético Madrid 0 – 1 Real Sociedad
Celta de Vigo 1 – 2 Real Madrid
Levante UD 0 – 0 Getafe CF
Athletic Bilbao 1 – 0 Valencia CF
RCD Mallorca 2 – 1 Sevilla FC
FC Barcelona 2 – 0 Deportivo La Coruña
Real Valladolid 1 – 1 Málaga CF
Rayo Vallecano 2 – 0 RCD Espanyol
Real Betis 2 – 1 Osasuna
Next: The Chávez trap
Previous: March 11, again