Atleti scrounge win despite Simeone's absence
Saturday evening at the Vicente Calderon saw a curtain finally -- if unspectacularly -- drawn on last season's achievements. In a strange way it might actually help Atletico Madrid get on with business this campaign.
105 days after Los Rojiblancos drew 1-1 with Barcelona at the Camp Nou to seal the La Liga crown, the club's players finally got their hands on the trophy.
The -- awful -- reasoning given by Spanish football's top dogs for the delay, is a long conversation for another day. One just hopes they have a substantial postage budget for the league winner's medals that will need to be shipped to eight of the 18 members from the matchday squad that day who are no longer at the club.
Perhaps because of this strange, belated garlanding the atmosphere at the Calderon pre-match was somewhat peculiar. The crowd welcomed back their team and were as boisterous as ever, but the celebrating had already been done back in May. The euphoria had been and gone. It was time to let the football excite them again.
And for 25 glorious minutes it looked as if it was going to be the same old Atleti.
Two set pieces, two goals. Joao Miranda met a Koke corner to open the scoring after 10 minutes. Just under quarter of an hour later Mario Mandzukic, who endured a league debut to forget, rose unmarked to meet a Gabi free kick as the home side doubled their advantage.
It seemed as if the newly promoted visitors were in for a long night. A "welcome to the big time" after a fairytale display against Real Sociedad.
It is at times like this when Diego Simeone comes into his own as a coach. He prowls the touchline, chewing the ears of each an every player unfortunate enough to get within shouting distance. He kicks every ball and makes every tackle, never allowing his side to switch off for a single second.
It was his style as a player, and it is how he has always been as a manager. It is admirable, astonishing at times, but also his downfall. He can become too involved (as was the case during the Supercup) and all too regularly self-combusts in front of the watching world when other, more self-controlled managers would channel their anger in other ways. With Simeone there are no half measures.
One thing that is for certain is that his side need him. If he did not know it already, he most certainly does now. Whether it is the psychological reassurance his presence brings, or a genuine need to be told what to do and where to go, things are not the same when the Argentine is in the stands.
Leading 2-0, Atleti should have continued to dominate, but instead allowed Eibar to get a foothold in the game. First, the increasingly impressive Miguel Angel Moya stopped a Javi Lara freekick. It should have served as a warning to Los Colchoneros. Perhaps if Simeone had been pitchside and able to communicate with his defence, it might have been heeded.
Los Armeros got back into things in sensational style. The goal itself can actually be mitigated in as much as Mikel Arruabarena's back-heel rolled perfectly into the path of left-back Abraham Minero, who curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner with his wrong foot. A lot needed to fall into place, and it did.
But that is not to take anything away from Basque outfit, who showed they belong at this level. Be it the champions or relegation fodder in front of them, they will play their own game: respecting but not bowing down to their opponents.
The goal breathed life into the visitors, and saw Atletico shrink. If ever there was an example of a team needing their leader to help regain stability and shape this was it. The ultra-reliable Diego Godin gifted Eibar a chance to equalise in the last minute as if to emphasise the point.
Luckily for the Uruguayan, they did not take advantage, and Atleti escaped with a 2-1 win.
Midfielder Mario Suarez also looked like he needed a word from the Argentine to regain his composure as he lost possession and misplaced many a pass. The Spaniard was luck not to pick up a second yellow and was whistled by home supporters. It would be no surprise to see Tiago take his place for the side's next game after the international break: the Madrid derby.
Los Rojiblancos will be confident enough as they make the short journey across the capital. They have just downed their local neighbours over two matches in the Supercup, and consistently manage to raise their game for the big occasion.
However, Simeone was pitchside -- or at least in the front row of the stand -- for both of those ties. It will now be a true test of his abilities as a coach and man manager as he prepares the team for a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu against the old enemy, who will be baying for blood and relishing the opportunity to severely dent their neighbour's hopes of defending their title before the defence has even truly begun.
Even this early on, playing catch-up is never a good idea.