After qualifying for their first Champions League semifinal in 40 years with a historic victory over their domestic rivals Barcelona, Atletico Madrid may be inclined to drop their ‘El Pulpas’ tag.
In English it translates as ‘The Jinxed One’, and it is something that they have seemingly been happy to play on throughout their recent history.
In 2001 an advert came out in Spain showing a small boy talking to his dad. “Papa, why do we support Atletico?” he asked, his voice echoing with renunciation rather than pride. A broad silence follows. The boy’s old man had no cogent answer.
Miguel García Vizcaíno, who scripted the advert, did though. “When you talk about Atletico’s defining values, the recurring words are passion, authenticity, realness,” he said. “Arrogance just doesn’t fit.”
And, as noise reverberated around a vibrant Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night as the Atleti European wagon rolled on, they were very evidently the virtues on show, instilled by Diego Simeone who has lifted his squad to these lofty heights.
Despite bossing possession, Barca rarely threatened the home side’s goal as they registered just three shots on target. Instead it was Simeone’s charges who tore into the side who had qualified for the previous six Champions League semi-finals. Besides Koke’s early goal, Atletico punched the woodwork three times in the first half, but, as ever, it was in the other third where their virtues were epitomised.
They listed 65 defensive actions as they sternly answered no to each of Barca’s questions. Although it wasn’t last-gasp defending; they totaled 41 clearances and 18 interceptions, this wasn’t desperate stuff, it was clever. In aerial combat they won 20 of the 28 mini-battles too: passion, authenticity and realness indeed.
Gerardo Martino, the Catalan’s coach, essentially admitted he knew what was coming, but was impotent to stop it. “I had no great expectations that the game could have gone differently,” the Argentine granted the press after his side’s elimination. “They won because they had intensity and we did not. The first 20 minutes was a big difference. It was the style of Atletico.”
Simeone masterminded all this without the use of two of his most important attacking entities as well. Diego Costa, who’s scored 32 goals in La Liga and the Champions League, wasn’t included despite his insistence to his manager that he should be involved, nor was the intricate Turkish international Arda Turan.
It’s not just in Europe where Atletico – who have won 23 of 28 games in European competitions under Simeone – are prosperous either. With six games remaining they are top of the Spain’s top flight, despite having less than a third of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s budgets, and boast the league’s most shrewd defence, conceding just 22 times in their 32 matches.
Already in the Simeone-era they have won the Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey – ending a 14-year hoodoo against their local residents Madrid in the process – but now they are focused on the hard stuff, the stuff that really etches history into a club.
The last time they made it this far in the Europe’s toughest competition was 1974. They made it to the final that year where they had their hearts broken by Bayern Munich, who, incidentally, still remain in this year’s edition too. Luis Aragones scored in that final and his death this year has been used as a focus for Los Rojiblancos to drive forward; a mosaic of one of his quotes lit up the Calderon before the Barcelona game: win, win and win again.
While they chase their European dream though, they’ll also have to be delicate to ensure their melee for La Liga remains on track too. In store remains a mouth-watering final day trip to Camp Nou, where they will face off with Barcelona for the sixth time this season – four draws had preceded Wednesday night’s clash.
It was put to Martino he’ll have to tweak his style to finally trump his compatriot Simeone. “Not possible,” was his blunt reply. “We are diametrically opposing teams. If we are going to succeed it is as we have for the last 15 years.”
If Atletico are going to succeed it will be playing as they have for the last 27 months under El Cholo. Keep that up and it will be impossible to play on the “jinxed” nickname anymore. However, the Madrid outfit will now face Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, and it’s clear this is one tie that Chelsea didn’t want.
Related Teams: Atletico Madrid