Atlético Madrid had not tasted victory away from home since 18 November, while defeat against Rubin Kazan on Thursday was the side's first at home this season. Yet coach Diego Simeone placed his faith in his first-choice eleven and the 'rojiblancos' enjoyed the most comfortable of wins as they overcame Real Valladolid with goals from Falcao (his 20th of the season), Diego Costa and 'Cebolla' Rodríguez.
The Brazilian is fast becoming a star. Nobody would have guessed it in August, but the Simeone way is turning both Costa and midfielder Gabi, two footballers used to playing a supporting role, into key men at the Vicente Calderón. In the case of the former, he is noticeable when he's there; the latter is noticeable when he isn't. Each in their own way, they are becoming indispensable. They returned to the Atlético line-up, and the line-up looked like Atlético again. A team with an irreproachable attitude and undeniable efficiency. There's no doubt about it: an excellent team.
It was evident from the start that the Europa League nightmare of midweek would not be repeated against a Valladolid side who, under Miroslav Djukic, always give their all but are in no position to deal with so many players out: without Marc Valiente and Henrique Sereno the team is weaker; without Patrick Ebert it is meeker. Having got over a poor clearance from Tiago which miraculously led only to a corner, Atleti left behind their chronic shyness as guests and made themselves right at home. Falcao served a warning of intent after seven minutes, before putting his side ahead after 11.
Simeone's chalkboard had been accumulating near-misses, and against Valladolid it finally bore fruit. Gabi won a free-kick near the penalty area and took it himself, chipping in to find Diego Godín. The Uruguay defender touched across to Falcao, with suggestions of offside. The Colombian made no mistake.
From this point on, the Diego Costa show began. It must have been a bittersweet feeling for the home support to see the Brazilian delivering on the promise he had showed in a spell at Valladolid three years ago. Equipped with bulldozer-like speed, using his strength with intelligence and exploiting his deceptive skill, Costa has learned to play with his head.
He could have scored twice before the break. The first opportunity was all his own making: superb chest control and a powerful strike that grazed the post. The second came through excellent movement straight off the training ground, seen as always by Gabi. However, Dani stood up well in the Valladolid goal. In the second half, the forward's goal arrived, Koke providing the pass with his head and the Brazilian firing low into the corner. Atlético had taken their time to extend their lead, but the result was never in doubt.
Valladolid were roused by the entrance of Manucho, but it was too little, too late. The game slowly wound down as both sides waited to escape from the rain. The visitors' third arrived almost by accident, Antonio Rukavina attempting an absurd backpass with his chest and 'Cebolla' Rodríguez showing no mercy. This was the day for the real Atlético to make its return, and Simeone's men did not disappoint.