Atlético Madrid were eliminated from the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night, as Celta Vigo stormed the Vicente Calderón and hung three goals on one of Europe's best defenses - playing, theoretically, at close to full strength. Let's break down some pros and cons from Atlético's 3-2 loss:
- At least two fewer games to play. Look, we all know that the Copa del Rey was always Atlético's third priority this season, behind the Champions League and La Liga. Atleti are very much alive in both competitions. The Copa is silverware, it's a meaningful trophy, but it doesn't hold quite the same importance to Atleti that it did in 2013. That's a testament to how big the club has become under Diego Simeone, that the Copa is a third-tier competition. If elimination in the Copa quarterfinals means a) some fresher legs moving forward and b) two fewer fixtures against Barcelona, then maybe it's not such a bad thing.
- Ángel Correa making a bid for first team football. He won't play at the weekend due to yellow card accumulation, but Correa's form has ticked upwards of late, and he scored Atlético's second goal thanks to some nifty footwork and an accurate stabbed finish. Correa will be eligible for the game against Eibar - a team he's already scored against this season - and he should start that game alongside Antoine Griezmann.
- Still went further than Real Madrid.
- Atlético are in poor form ahead of the Barcelona game. Winless in three, two goals in those three games...Atleti will be going to Camp Nou on a dry spell and in less-than-ideal physical condition (Simeone used two subs against Celta and Gabi, Griezmann, Koke and Vietto played all 90 minutes). Stranger things happen all the time, but hard not to consider Barcelona the favorites on Saturday. The Catalan club won five out of five against Atleti in 2015 alone.
- Is the Calderón still a fortress? Atlético shipped more than two goals at home for the first time since September and conceded three goals for the first time in more than a year. Atleti also lost a fourth home game in all comps this season - and it's not February yet. The team does have some poor results at home this term: the 2-1 loss to Benfica and last week's 0-0 with Sevilla stand out and even slim wins against Deportiu Reus and Levante weren't terribly inspiring either. Consider the team's sensational away form this season as well (they've scored more league goals away from the Calderón than in it)...and the Calderón suddenly doesn't look quite as fearsome as it did a season ago, let alone 2013-14.
- One less shot at silverware. It's not a great competition, but the Copa is still a trophy. Atlético's surprise quarterfinal exit means the league and Champions League take on even more importance. And if Atleti go down this weekend, they will face an uphill battle in La Liga, as Barcelona would have a three-point cushion atop the table with a game in hand.