LA LIGA | ESPANYOL 0-0 ATLÉTICO
Miranda and Casilla leave Atlético fourth
The Atleti central defender was sent off in the 46th minute for an elbow, while Casilla made several spectacular saves. Valencia move ahead of the reigning champions.
Atleti gave up third spot in a incident filled match in which they were the protagonists in nearly every bit of action, both good and bad, while Espanyol limited themselves to watching the bizarre spectacle. And in the moments when Cholo’s side were the good Doctor Jekyll and not the destructive Mr Hyde, Casilla appeared - a top keeper, who responded to his terrible mistake last week with an exhibition today. Personality and confidence. What’s missing with Miranda, who’s had his head missing since the summer and left his team a man down before the break for a horrendous, unnecessary challenge. We’ll see if such a damaging red card makes Simeone react: despite his insistence, the old guard are failing (Miranda, Gabi, Raúl García...) and living in the (glorious) past with so much at stake is dangerous. The Champions League, and everything else, is to be fought for now, and many of the side’s pillars aren’t holding up.
First the handshake between the two captains, both involved in match-fixing cases (Sergio García and Gabi) in a scene worthy of Berlanga’s film The National Shotgun, criticising post-Franco corruption in Spain. Then, for the first half hour Atleti gave the impression that they’d overcome their crisis of identity. They came out dominating as they haven’t in a long while, with Griezmann lighting up a strangely flat Cornellà and Tiago showing his finest side. Torres, once again starting thanks to Mandzukic being punished (this time by his yellow cards, not Simeone), showed his spry physical shape, but the goals continue to evade him in the league. This time, Casilla stopped him with a vital hand, of the kind where there isn’t time to smile for the cameras, that prevented a magnificent header from El Niño after a Koke free-kick in 11 minutes. Atleti appeared to be reconciled with the dead ball – Koke nearly scored from the following corner. And just after Gabi volleyed at the keeper from a set-play.
Espanyol, meanwhile, continue sunk in their post-cup depression. They fouled, so they were at least doing something, and waited for an isolated spark from their two superb forwards. And it nearly came on 21 minutes, when Tiago had to correct a Juanfran mistake and avoid the one winning in a one on four – Sergio García is worth several.
Atleti had another chance before the sky fell in on their heads, but Griezmann didn’t see the pass to Torres on a counter and his shot went wide. Miranda then changed things entirely. He came charging up like a runaway horse to jump into the opposing half, he arrived late, went in with his elbow and knocked Abraham into the middle of next week. Clear red card for unnecessary, dangerous play, and one which makes having Giménez a substitute one of the mysteries of the season.
Simeone didn’t wait the remaining minute before half-time to send a message of caution to his players, bringing off Torres. But not even with one more could Espanyol recover their bravery and on 50 minutes it was Griezmann who scored, but just after the referee had given a foul against Godín for jumping higher than the defender. It must be a new law.
After 66 minutes, Simeone accepted finally that Gabi hasn’t been himself for months and put Arda on for him. After a spell in which Espanyol did nothing and Casilla made the save of the afternoon in a one on one against Raúl García (who no longer justifies with goals how much time he gets to play), Cholo stunned everyone with a very strange decision if he was wanting to win: he took off Griezmann. At the last minute Arda nearly turned the whole thing into just a nasty nightmare for Atleti, but Casilla appeared again and left Atleti fourth and in a sea of doubts. The old guard are trembling and new heroes are needed.