After today's victory, Atletico Madrid needs two more wins to hoist the La Liga 2013-14 trophy. Playing away at Valencia CF's Mestalla Stadium, Madrid won 1-0 in its typical style--score one goal and hang on at all costs.
The goal, a header from the middle of the box by Raul Garcia at the 43rd minute, was a double mistake by the Valencia defense. Garcia was the only Atletico man going for the cross and he managed to both slip his marker and get between the Valencia central defenders. This forced the host's vice-captain and goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, to come way out to try to punch the ball away. The confluence of players at the point of impact meant that if Garcia could just nudge the ball toward the nets he would be heading into an empty goal. He managed, and the game was won.
The rest of the match was predictable. Valencia needed points to pursue its fading chances for a place on the table that would constitute European play next season. So coach Juan Antonio Pizzi kept replacing defensive players for attacking ones as the game progressed. Meanwhile, feeling his team had a handle on the needed win Atletico coach, Diego Simeone, kept replacing his players based on his team's coming mid-week Champions League match against Chelsea.
Out came Garcia, Diego Costa (once Juanfran's red card was issued at the 91st) and in came players needing fine tuning such as the recuperating Arda Turan. But the style was unchanged. The team plays very tough defense, roughly throughout the pitch, and then tries the early strike as their preferred method of scoring.
This was a key win for the Madrid side who are trying not to have the season's last game, to be played away against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, have any bearing on their championship run.
Their next two La Liga matches are against inferior opposition in Levante and Malaga. They beat Malaga 1-0 and Levante 3-2 in their last meetings this season.
Looking ahead to Atletico's Champions League match against Chelsea the Madrid side seems like they will be at full force, well tuned and relatively well rested for their big challenge. There should be no surprises in that match since Chelsea can only advance with a win while a tie or a single goal loss with a Madrid score will be potential scenarios Simeone would find acceptable.
Things are getting interesting for Spanish Football teams as four still remain in European competition while three still have some chance of being crowned La Liga champs. The next few weeks will be a roller coaster.