It was the 81st minute. Atlético Madrid had been tiring for a good 20 minutes as Real Sociedad crept closer to Jan Oblak’s goal. An anxious air emanated from Estadio Vicente Calderón and its normally full-throated supporters. Atlético needed a wake-up call, a source of inspiration to help see this 1-0 game over the line.
Enter one Diego Simeone.
The Calderón in full voice, spurred on by the mad man on the sidelines who happens to be their coach pic.twitter.com/HiGhbzPlhS— Richard Martin (@Rich9908) April 4, 2017
Fresh off being named LaLiga’s Manager of the Month for March, Simeone whipped up the Calderón into a frenzy. The Atlético faithful roared in response to the wild gesticulations of the man in black below. The final 10 minutes plus added time saw Yannick Carrasco tear through La Real’s defense yet again and force a good stop from Gerónimo Rulli. José Giménez forced Rulli into an even better save at his near post. Atleti continued to push for the second goal its display deserved, and although that goal would not come, the message had been received. The kick to the pants had been applied. Atleti finished off a fifth consecutive win - the fourth with a clean sheet - and will head into Saturday’s Madrid Derby in sterling form, brimming with confidence.
Technically, it was Filipe Luís who won Tuesday’s match against La Real. The Brazilian had to stretch his left leg to its very limit just to poke Fernando Torres’ pass past Rulli on 28 minutes and deal the hammer blow to a fragile Txuri-Urdin. Atlético, for the third straight game, rang up less than 40 percent possession, but outshot the visitors 20-10 and held them to one shot on target despite several dangerous spells.
But it was Simeone who ensured the victory by summoning another dose of Calderón magic, the supply of which will run out in about six weeks’ time.
On Monday, Cholo remarked in his pre-match press conference that this match would be very important, and he implored the Calderón to be one with the team from the first minute. That wish didn’t necessarily come to fruition immediately, when Atlético emerged from the tunnel slow and sluggish in attack. La Real ruled possession but did little with it, and the middle period of the match was spent picking up yellow cards and watching the Atleti defense clear everything in its way.
Simeone attempted to jazz things up by removing Antoine Griezmann introducing Ángel Correa, who proceeded to miss his 672nd* sitter of the 2016-17 season (*not a precise statistic). Los colchoneros had worn down, low on energy following the quick turnaround after the first post-international break game at Málaga. That final boost was required.
As he prepared to send on Giménez, Simeone began motioning furiously to a pretty full Calderón, howling at the supporters to get behind his players. And it worked. Atlético applied vigorous counterattacking pressure that left La Real fuming, and when the full time whistle blew, an elated Cholo pumped his fists and shouted with glee.
This is the power Simeone has at this club, unique to him and no one else. Few personalities in Atlético’s colorful, checkered history are as infectious or as widely admired as El Cholo’s; he is in rarefied air, in league with the late Luis Aragonés. Tuesday served as another example of why players and fans so often fall in line with the Argentine: when he speaks - or bellows - you listen.