Diego Simeone: Atletico Madrid have been more consistent in 2017
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said his team had found the "consistency in their play" they needed as they won a fifth straight La Liga game and strengthened their hold on third spot by beating Real Sociedad 1-0 at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Tuesday evening.
The result was never much in doubt once Atletico went ahead on 28 minutes, when left-back Filipe Luis broke into the box and scored his second goal in four days. The result moved Simeone's side three points clear of an out-of-form Sevilla, who are at Barcelona on Wednesday night, in the battle for the final automatic Champions League qualification spot.
Atletico have now conceded just once in their last six games in all competitions, as they hit form ahead of Saturday's derbi at La Liga leaders Real Madrid, and then the following Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal first leg at home to Leicester.
The Colchoneros coach told his postgame news conference that over recent months his side had found the balance that had been missing at times earlier in the season.
"Since 2017 began, we have been playing much better, a much more balanced team, more consistent in our play," Simeone said. "The team has been working better. That allows us to compete as we have been doing. What our kids are doing is still extraordinary, we were nine points below Sevilla, and the team kept working, just looking forward. Now we will see about what is left."
Simeone had been off his feet late in the game to rouse a Calderon crowd that went quiet when La Real had lots of possession, if few chances, in the second half.
"We needed the fans," Simeone said. "I believe they did not know how important this game was. The players were tired, and this was a game we had to win. That is not easy, to win every game.
"I feel like another fan, and felt the team needed their support. And from there they controlled the game, with the support of the fans. When the fans are there, the Calderon is marvellous."
When it was put to Simeone that Leicester were also hitting top form under new manager Craig Shakespeare, the Argentine coach gave a two word deadpan answer: "Real Madrid."
Asked about the morning's Marca report that Madrid will pay €24 million to trigger the release clause of Atletico youngster Theo Hernandez, currently impressing on loan at Alaves, Simeone also batted the question away.
"I always wish our players the best," he said. "When the season is over, we will start to get into those type of things. I spoke with Theo a month or so ago. We know what we said to each other. I am very happy with everything he is doing, like Saul's season at Rayo Vallecano he is growing as a player. And these questions are for [Andrea] Berta, [Jose Luis] Caminero, [Enrique] Cerezo and others at the club."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan