Atlético Look To Hold Onto Their Lead

Atletico were easily beaten (almost literally) in their Copa Del Rey semi-final first leg against Ancelotti's Real. La Liga remains the priority, and things look pretty rosy indeed.

Last Updated: 07/02/14 at 09:32 Post Comment

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In the end, the plan from Carlo Ancelotti was a wise one. The Italian manager learned from the mistakes of many coaches before him and decided that the best way to beat Atlético Madrid was to be more Atlético Madrid than Atlético Madrid. That is to say that they were meaner, nastier and more industrious than the Vicente Calderón club. Not to mention of a huge amount of luck in front of goal, with two strikes of the three nil win coming from shots spooning away from goal being sent passed the non-plussed Thibaut Courtois.

There was almost an element of José Mourinho facing Barcelona in the set-up against the Rojiblancos in the midweek Copa del Rey semi-final clash, Ancelotti having to find a member of his team more snidey and annoying than Diego Costa. Step forward Pepe, who regressed a season or two to his psycho phase to both successfully hound his fellow Brazilian-born, but Brazilian-rejected, rival and actually stay on the pitch too. It was Pepe who also opened the scoring in the Santiago Bernabéu to settle a few nerves, although his strike was heading towards the stand before being deflected in.

Alvaro Arbeloa, a footballer who turned decidedly dark under the previous Portuguese manager, also got in the face of the Atleti players, a reasonable strategy considering that aggression and constant hassling are key components of an Atlético success which had seen the team going 23 matches unbeaten.

Although the tie looks done and dusted, Diego Simeone's side can still be content with the fact that the team are league leaders in La Primera and look likely to maintain that position. The capital city club are heading to Almería on Saturday in the sort of digging-in, gritty encounter that Atlético specialise in.

Real Madrid host Villarreal, and will be hoping that Gareth Bale can get over all of his various niggles and knocks to cover for the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward is set to miss Saturday's clash with the Yellow Submarine, serving a three-match ban for either slapping Carlos Gurpegui in last week's Athletic game, tussling with other members of the Basque side or making a gesture towards the man in the middle.

Whilst Ronaldo has been a busy bee of industry this season - although very cranky ever since winning the Ballon d'Or - Bale has only taken part in 50% of Madrid's minutes in the current campaign and seems to be limping from one injury to another.

Barcelona are in a strangely low place at the moment. The home defeat to Valencia rocked the side on its heels, the midweek 2-0 Copa del Rey win against Real Sociedad was watched by just 38,000 in the Camp Nou to prompt Dani Alves into criticising those who stayed away for being pretty much part-time, glory boys. "If they don't believe in the team then its best that they stay away," sniffed the Brazilian full back.

Sunday's match sees danger, danger Will Robinson for Barcelona with a visit to the Sánchez Pizjuán, facing a Sevilla side that always seem to cause problems for the Catalan club. The Camp Nou match in September saw Barça needing a late, late winner from Alexis Sánchez and Sevilla may be in the mood for taking advantage of a moment of self doubt in the Barcelona ranks after the Valencia reverse and the institutional uncertainty generated by the recent resignation of Sandro Rosell.

Although Atlético were the losers in the Copa del Rey, this is easily the least important of the three fronts on which the club are competing, and there is the possibility of a rousing win in La Liga combined with a setback for either Real Madrid and Barcelona this weekend. La Primera has been fine fare already this season - it may be on the brink of getting even better.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter

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