Time was running out for Valencia. Time was running out for Atletico too. But both of them managed to hold their nerves and eke out a result. It has been quite a season for both teams but in different ways. After eight matches, Atletico find themselves within touching distance of Barcelona, eight points ahead of their more illustrious city rival, Real Madrid. Valencia, on the other hand, a more dominant force until this year, are struggling to make an impact on the league and that is why their thrilling victory over Athletic Bilbao will go a long way in helping boost their confidence and getting their campaign back on track.
But, undoubtedly, the star of the week has been Radamel Falcao. He had scored in his previous nine matches. As time was nearly running out, he stepped up and placed a thunderous free kick past the Real Sociedad goal keeper, Zubikarai, and won it for his team.
Atletico have developed a style of their own under Diego Simeone. While many teams in La Liga prefer to play the possession game, Los Rojiblancos play the waiting game. They are more about controlling the space on the pitch than the ball and then look for any opportunity to pass the ball to Falcao. And the Colombian has not disappointed. While Messi and Ronaldo make headlines over their goal scoring exploits, Falcao has silently marched on maintaining his goal scoring brilliance by scoring 16 goals in his last 10 matches. Its staggering to say the least.
While Messi and Ronaldo boast of Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta and Fabregas behind them, Falcao can only point to Koke, Raul Garcia and Gabi. But, he still has been nothing short of brilliant. While Atletico, in recent times, have always boasted of a great striker in their ranks with previous names being Fernando Torres, Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, Falcao at the moment, looks to eclipse them going by his dazzling form.
Radamel Falcao is probably the most complete centre forward in the world today: exceptional in the air, brilliant with the ball at his feet and a lethal finish. While his performance against Chelsea in the European Super Cup made Europe stand up and notice, his performances for Atletico have further solidified his credentials as probably the best centre forward in the world.
While Atletico keep marching on thanks to their new talisman, Valencia find themselves looking for a talisman. Under Unai Emery, Valencia were easily the third best team in La Liga but under Mauricio Pellegrino, the team has failed to impress this season. While they have retained Roberto Soldado and signed Fernando Gago, there is still a lot of work to be done if Valencia wants to be the force they previously were.
Their thrilling victory against Athletic Bilbao last week should boost their confidence as they cannot afford to slip up any more to maintain their proximity to the Champions League spot.
Athletic Bilbao are another strange phenomenon. After playing out a brilliant season last year, Marcelo Bielsa finds his team in a position which nobody expected them to be at the start of the season. They are battling relegation and they did not help their cause when they threw away their match against Valencia. While any club would be delighted with the €40m deposited by Bayern Munich for Javi Martinez, Athletic Bilbao are the exception. Because of their strict Basque policy, the club buys players only from the Basque region and no player is available in the class of Martinez.
And then there was the whole drama regarding Fernando Llorente’s departure. While the club may have put the matter behind them and moved on, it has certainly affected the team. Recently, Bielsa’s speech to his players in the dressing room after their losses to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the Copa Del Rey and Europa League respectively caused a furore. Such deviations from the norm have caused a lot of distraction and the sooner the club gets on track the better it is for everyone, including the league.
Athletic Bilbao are a team with excellent players but right now, the players don’t seem to be gelling well with each other. It is still early in the season and it is hard to imagine Bilbao fighting relegation but if Bielsa wants a European spot, he needs to his team to perform better.
As Atheltic Bilbao face problems and Valencia take time to acclimatize to their new coach, Atletico Madrid looks as the team to win the coveted automatic Champions League spot this season. While Malaga are making great progress even after losing their star players, thanks to Manuel Pellegrini, they still don’t seem to have the quality of the capital club to make a great case for themselves. And yes, the difference in quality is Radamel Falcao.