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Iñako Díaz-Guerra | 13/01/2013
If the cliché is true, and the difficult bit isn't getting there but staying there, then Simeone's Atleti seem ready to collect another accolade. The assurance with which they dispatched an organized but always second best Zaragoza this evening is another nail in the coffin of that old, unreliable Atleti; the one which seemed to turn round and stab its fans in the back just when they had begun to believe. This year, they've rounded off the first half of their Liga campaign with numbers that belie a different outfit: ten wins in ten matches on the Manzanares, 44 points, Madrid seven behind, 18 goals courtesy of Falcao, 10 clean sheets; and they're still alive in the Copa and in Europe. If anybody still harbours doubts, no statistic will win them over.
Only two points cast a shadow over the build up; they regarded the nature of Arda's reception after his announcement that he wants to leave and Mario Suárez's continued exclusion from the starting eleven in favour of Tiago. The men at the centre of both issues banished any doubts in a breath. The Calderón received the Turk with a certain coolness, but without anger. Three runs and a nutmeg later they were cheering him. While he remains at Atlético, Arda is indispensable; he gives that touch of elegance. Reworking the relationship between club and player would be positive for both parties. The left side he makes up with Filipe Luis is spectacular.
Things are a little trickier for Tiago. His contract ends in June and Atleti aren't planning to renew it despite the fact that Simeone rates him highly. His performances appeared to be in decline, but he's making the most of this last opportunity. He played well in Palma and this evening carried the baton from the start. He worked well in getting the ball back and his precise passes allowed the team to take advantage of the breaks from Falcao and Diego Costa that are becoming one of the Atlético's calling cards. After seven minutes, he put 'the Tiger' through for a one-on-one with Roberto, but the forward let the ball get away from him and the keeper's good work prevented the goal. On 31 minutes, after a number of chances for the home team, Tiago headed home the opener from Gabi's corner. It was just desserts.
Jiménez's men didn't wake up with the blow. Miranda had a chance at close range from another corner, and then Sapunaru gave away a textbook penalty for his challenge on Arda. Falcao was unforgiving from the spot. Despite the fact he wasn't quite as clinical over the 90 minutes, the Colombian is now on 18 goals in the Liga. Only after the break did Zaragoza appear to step up a gear. But just one. Atleti kept making goal scoring chances, and forcing Roberto into the role of best away player against the club where he started out, and who have him on a shortlist of possible substitutes for Courtois. The Belgian, meanwhile at least had an opportunity to warm up a little when he was forced to react to Apoño's long shot.
Arda could have completed a perfect reconciliation, but Roberto stopped his effort with a great save, and Falcao missed after a fantastic one-two. There's no need to take it too far, the Turk would have thought as he came off to a standing ovation. Diego Costa, meanwhile did not like being substituted; he wanted more. True Simeone-esque ambition. It was Zaragoza's defender Loovens who came closest to the third in a mix-up with Roberto, but it didn't matter anyway; the match had been decided from the start. This dependable Atleti don't like intrigue.
IMAGEN: Pleno del Atleti en el Calderón