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One 'final' less... and three more points for the cause

Logotipo de AS AS 19/04/2014 Iñako Díaz-Guerra

Joao Miranda’s hallowed head came to rescue Atlético just when all of the phantoms which have haunted the Rojiblancos in recent years began to rear their heads on another excruciating evening at the Calderón. And it wasn’t the first time that the Brazilian centre-back has delivered when he has been called on. He does it week in week out in defence and on occasion, in attack. He was decisive last year’s Copa del Rey final and again tonight against Elche. As a defender, he’s a giant – and an Atleti hero, never mind eh, Scolari... On 72 minutes, his back-post header from Sosa’s corner (the Winston Wolf of set-pieces) caused the Calderón to erupt. It’s one final less to play, three more points in the bag – there are four games left to play and three wins would be enough to see Atleti crowned league champions. Atlético fans’ hearts have plenty of work to do in the forthcoming weeks.

© Gabriel Pecot

Elche pushed them to the limit during what was a bland first half performance for Simeone’s troops. Maybe it was the thought of next week’s clash with Chelsea, but tonight, the famous Rojiblanco intensity was as flat as a bottle of beer opened three days ago. The early minutes were evenly-fought and open – a bit too open for the hosts’ liking. But the first chances were for Atleti – Diego Costa struck the side netting then arrived just a fraction of a second too late as Manu Herrera raced out to smother.

Elche, under the guidance of their excellent coach Fran Escribá suddenly started finding cracks in the Colchonero set-up. Javi Márquez’s stinging low drive had to be turned around the post by a Courtois at full stretch, then the keeper had to react twice in quick succession to divert a Sapunaru header. Carles Gil had an even clearer chance when, faced with a gaping goal, blasted over.

Atlético looked uncomfortable - with Adrián unable to reproduce his Champions League magic, Diego Costa flagging (just a false alarm) and Villa continuing his personal crusade to find the net to the point where, even when he was left clean through in an offside move which the linesman missed, couldn’t even fire into an unguarded goal. You would expect more from a player of Villa’s calibre. Sensing that something had to change, Simeone switched from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1.

Atleti reacted after the turnaround and encountered the ideal ally in Sapunaru. On 50 minutes, he hauled down Raúl García whilst contesting a ball that not even Manute Bol would have reached. After watching Diego Costa fluff four out of his last eight spot-kicks, Simeone decided to hand penalty duties to Villa, whose bland effort was easily saved by Manu Herrera.

Against his usual judgement, El Cholo used up all of his three substitutions bringing on Raúl García, Diego and Sosa and instantly, Atleti had Elche pegged back with such effect that the halfway line must have appeared like Finnistere to the visitors. Nevertheless their defence held on until Sosa launched his outswinging corner which was headed in by Miranda at the far post to send the stands into ecstasy. Elche started to looked vulnerable as Atleti mounted a series of counter-attacks until Sapunaru (who has given away five penalties in eight games – genius) conceded another penalty which Costa nonchalantly put away to take his tally to 27 – one less than Cristiano. There are four finals left and while they are suffering, Atlético continue to rack up the points. No-one said that it would be easy, but these next four weeks could be monumental.

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