Here's To Bravery! Courage! Dedication!

Neutrals in Spain should be very glad indeed that Diego Simeone whips his 'team of men' into a frenzy because that means La Liga remains a three-horse race...

Last Updated: 04/03/14 at 16:08 Post Comment

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There is a lot of money to be made by someone in Spain, which is quite handy really considering the country is not exactly in the best of financial health at the moment. Well, since round about 2006.

An imaginative toymaker could make a veritable fortune making and flogging Diego Simeone dolls, the type that repeats phrases when a string is pulled out of the figure's back. The Christmas best-seller would be about nine inches high, dressed in black, scowling and slightly thinning on top, Zidane style. When the string is pulled by delighted Atlético Madrid-supporting toddlers, Mini-Simeone would squeak in a thick Argentinean brogue, "Bravery! Courage! Dedication!" and "We are a team of men!"

Those are pretty much the stock phrases of the Argentinean coach and they were put in use before and after the Madrid derby on Sunday. The game was not so much a must-win for the Rojiblancos but a must-not-lose. The team would have gone six points behind Real Madrid at the top of the table had the hosts lost at the Vicente Calderón.

After just three minutes, a defeat looked very much on the cards with a poor record at Atlético's home against their rivals holding true - a record that saw Atlético going 14 games without a victory in the derby clash in the Calderón. Karim Benzema snuck ahead of the Atleti defence to poke an Angel di María cross home, despite a start of the match which showed Atlético at their best - and that's kicking the opposition into row C. Indeed, it took just 34 seconds for the club's enforcer-in-chief, Juanfran, to boot Fabio Coentrao off the pitch and then trot away with an expression of a job well done.

The normal routine for Atlético would be to roll over for another defeat, but with Simeone and his equally scary assistant Mono Burgos yelling and racing from the touchline, a beautifully placed shot from Koke put the home side back into the game just before half-time. Life got even better for Atlético when a whopper of a screamer from Gabi gave them them lead. But, with football being a sucky existence much of the time (unless you are a Real Madrid fan, of course), Cristiano Ronaldo did what he does best and scored late doors to make it 2-2 and leave both sides reasonably happy.

There were grumbles in the media from both camps that perhaps the game could have been killed off by their respective teams but for Simeone, the message was a clear one. "I am proud of the squad. They are men who took on everyone."

The result is perfect for La Liga in the sense that it did not ruin the three-way battle at the top of the table. A victory for Barcelona against Almería moved the Catalans to within one point of the top. With a Clásico in the Santiago Bernabéu just around the corner, there is a fine opportunity for Atlético Madrid to take advantage of points dropped by one or both teams involved.

Whilst the title chase still has an awful lot of legs, the fourth Champions League place is starting to look like belonging to Athletic Bilbao. Despite only having one functioning striker and a brand new stadium that is a little prone to leaking, a 4-0 win over Granada for the Basque side gave Athletic a six-point lead over Villarreal, who were rather surprisingly held 1-1 at home by bottom-of-the-table Betis. Sixth-placed Real Sociedad also slipped up, losing away to Sevilla, to leave the side from San Sebastian facing Europa League football as a more realistic destination next season.

The fun now in La Liga is to look ahead and see which teams are most likely to drop points in a race that resembles an old school horse-racing game found on crumbling piers. Next weekend, Real Madrid have a home clash against a Levante side in surprisingly good form and that is more than capable of parking a Dreamliner in front of goal. Barcelona and Atlético are travelling to Valladolid and Celta respectively in clashes that may be made tougher after an international break for much of their squads.

For those of a neutral bent, the result in the Madrid derby was a good one. Whilst Atlético Madrid failed to overcome a poor record in the Vicente Calderón, the game did not end in defeat, leaving Simeone driving off into the night making happy declarations about men and courage and courageous men.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter

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