It may not go down as one of Atletico's best performances throughout the season but there can be no arguing the importance of last night's victory in Bilbao. A Fernando Torres header from an Antoine Griezmann cross in the 38th minute was enough to secure victory for the Rojiblancos as their surge towards the title continues.
It was a lackluster match-up until Torres knocked in his fifth consecutive goal to break the deadlock, but for the remaining minutes of the first half and the whole length of the second, Atletico came under plenty of pressure from a determined and desperate Bilbao side. Championship mentality was required from Simeone's men with their defensive prowess shining throughout to pick up the three valuable points. However, it wasn't just the win that Atletico had left Bilbao with, they also departed with a new found belief that the La Liga title was a real possibility.
Over the course of a championship winning season, there are always going to be results which stick out as moments in which teams point to as their reason for success. If Barcelona slip up in the coming weeks and Atleti take full advantage, this grind-out win in the San Mames will be looked upon as a crucial moment in the title race. When the second half kicked off last night, Barcelona had already defeated Deportivo la Coruna 8-0 in a succulent display of their attacking abilities. Luis Suarez scored 4 and assisted another 3 with Lionel Messi and Neymar also popping up on the score sheet.
The pressure was well and truly on for Atletico. Bilbao, sitting in 5th and just six points behind 4th placed Villarreal, the hosts were fully aware of what a win would do for their Champions League hopes. Bilbao isn't an easy place to play, whether it's Match day 1 or 38. They only suffered 5 defeats in their own stamping ground last year, and lost 3 less than that during the 2013-14 season. Before last night, they had only endured defeat once in their last thirteen games at home. It is due to facts like these that this was looked upon as the game where Atletico would slip up and push Barcelona closer to the title. If there's one thing we've learnt about Simeone's Atletico, it's that they never lose when they're supposed to do.
While Diego Godin's apparent hamstring injury is a problem, especially considering next week's Champions League semi-final showdown with Bayern Munich, the ‘bottle' that was shown last night by the title chasers is admirable. San Mames is a tough place to play with a full-strength XI, but when you consider the injury to Godin, the suspension of captain Gabi, the absence of Jose Gimenez, the victory last night is that more impressive. Filipe Luis put in an inspired performance, continuing his good form, while Lucas slotted in well after being subbed on following Godin's injury and Torres displayed another fine example of the type of leader he can become for this team.
Augusto yet again showed he's a player that can always be relied on upon to stick his foot in and break up play while Jan Oblak was successful in keeping the opposition at bay. The physical and mental pressure that has been heaped on this team, most notably in the last fortnight, would have made a slip-up last night all the more understandable but if there's one team this team is capable of, it's scraping out victories they have no right pulling out.
As we head into the last part of the season, expectations are high for the team with a Champions League semi-final and exciting title run-in facing them for the remainder of the campaign. Bayern will prove to be a real test of the team's character and ability to compete with the rest of Europe's elite. Pep Guardiola has reached the semi-final twice in his tenure at Bayern only to be humbled by Spanish opposition. You can be rest assured that the former Barcelona manager will be determined to avoid a humiliating exit from the continent's premier competition before he heads to England and will have his players fired up for the encounter.
The run-in for the Primera Liga seems somewhat easier to deal with but matches with relegation candidates Levante and European hopefuls Celta Vigo headline a tricky group of fixtures as Atletico will aim to take advantage of any potential slip-up from Barcelona. There's no easy games at this stage of the season but if last night's victory taught us anything, it's that Atletico have the mental strength needed to pull out important victories.