DAVID F. SANCHIDRIÁN
Atlético Madrid have been shoring up their house ahead of the fierce winds that are blowing on the horizon in the coming weeks. In light of what could happen against Sevilla, Real Madrid and Barcelona Simeone's team have kept on adding three points at every opportunity, to keep themselves within touching distance of leaders Barcelona. The triumph against Granada tonight gave them another dose of motivation, given that it ensures they will go into the derby against Real Madrid ahead of their illustrious city rivals in the table. Tonight's match in Los Cármenes wasn't by any means a spectacular game. Granada in fact were a nuisance for Atlético for most of the night, but in the end Simeone's chalkboard came up trumps again. Diego Costa came on to bring Falcao in from the cold, and Atlético changed gears until Arda Turan found the net. They even overcame the expulsion of Mario Suárez with 20 minutes left, and sealed their 10th victory and their best ever start to the league after 12 games.
The dreams of Atleti are in stark contrast to the anguish of Granada, who still have the water lapping at their necks, and not because they lack decent football. Anquela's team are good enough to get out of the hole they are in. Mikel Rico and Iriney are solid, and Dani Benítez fast, but he's not a natural goal scorer. Their statistics at the moment are dire; this was their third consecutive home defeat. Last time that happened, back in 1960, Granada went down.
Atlético left behind the turbulence of Valencia and Coimbra. 'El Cholo' didn't change things when they went well and he maintained the same course after these slight upsets. He put out the same starting 11 tonight that his team's fans can repeat in their sleep. Falcao led the line (with the Colombian even beloved by the Granada support for his goal against Villareal that saved them last season) but Atlético struggled to settle on Andalusian soil due to the smothering pressure of their rivals. When architect Arda Turan was involved the home side were even fiercer, up to three Granada players descending on him like wolves. Subjection first, creation second. Mikel Rico did his job to perfection, bringing the ball out cleanly and relying often on Dani Benítez, a breath of fresh air in the Andalusian attack.
Atleti needed 15 minutes to create their first real attack. Siqueira and El Arabi threatened for the home team, a shot from Raúl García and a header from Godín the reply from the red and whites. But Granada won the first round on points here. They kept up a fierce pace to the halfway point in the match, though without the prize of a goal, which nearly came for them on the stroke of halftime, but first Courtois, and then the post, saved the visitors. The Belgian keeper saved his team after El Arabi left Filipe Luis for dead with a ballerina's twirl. The post stepped in to save from Torje after a fine Granada counterattack.
Simeone changed the situation bringing on Diego Costa for Adrián, who is yet to get going, and then Koke for Raúl García. (Atlético played more than a minute with only 10 men as the reference González González didn't authorise the Brazilian's entrance onto the pitch).
Simeone doesn't tend to make mistakes with his substitutions, and this season he's only had one reverse, against Valencia. Tonight he once again got it spot on. Not just because of the goal, cooked up in the boots of the players brought on, but also in the way Koke and Diego Costa changed the whole set up of the game. The Brazilian did the dirty work, taking the weight off Falcao's shoulders by positioning himself a few metres behind and offering himself as an alternative, thereby forcing Granada to pay attention to him as well. Koke had the more eye-catching job, bringing forth the pass into space that Arda Turan took advantage of to open the scoring.
The goal didn't make Granada any bolder. In fact Atlético could have sealed the points with a shot from Falcao that smashed into the post. The home team only got the desired boost when Mario Suárez saw red for a double yellow. Simeone then took off Arda and strengthened his team's spine with Tiago to sit out the last 20 minutes. And they did it with little trouble. Only a header from Orellana put their record in trouble: 10 wins out of the first 12 league games. Now tighten your belts, the league's rollercoaster starts here.