Are Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid becoming 'the new Osasuna'?
To the those still finding their way around la Liga, Osasuna are constantly referred to in Spain as a very Ã¢ÂÂBritishÃ¢ÂÂ team.
It is a description that is simultaneously both complimentary and insulting to Her MajestyÃ¢ÂÂs sporting honour. It praises the Ã¢ÂÂraw and honestÃ¢ÂÂ qualities of the British game and of the Pamplona club, as well as its passionate and ever-so-slightly bonkers crowd. There is also the strong and snooty implication that British football is violent, peppered with long balls and packed with ankle-smashing tackles, which is a fairly apt description of how Osasuna go about their football business.
For those who wonder if Valencia are ready for Stoke in their upcoming Europa League clash, or whether Barcelona could transfer their fancy pants game from la Primera to the Potteries, watching 90 minutes of a fixture featuring Osasuna will provide a good insight. ItÃ¢ÂÂs the closest the beautiful game gets to cage fighting.
About a month ago, a positively flimsy AtlÃÂ©tico Madrid would have been smashed to smithereens at Osasuna, after all, the side had yet to win away all season and Osasuna are notoriously tough to beat at home. But then Diego Simeone - a tough-tackling, tough-talking, downright scary midfielder back in the day - took over as manager, and is starting to transfer some of those qualities to his new side.
Despite only taking over at the Vicente CalderÃÂ³n at the end of December, the Argentinean coach has transformed AtlÃÂ©tico Madrid into the mirror image of himself, a team with the emphasis on physicality rather than flair, despite the talent of players such as Diego, Arda Turan and Falcao in the ranks.
Under the stewardship of Simeone, the Rojiblancos have managed a draw and three wins and have yet to concede a goal, a record that has moved Atleti into seventh, two points from the Champions League places, a position that was completely unthinkable at Christmas. The last of those victories came on a cold and frosty Monday night in Pamplona in front of OsasunaÃ¢ÂÂs usual baying crowd.
In a match of few chances, AtlÃÂ©ticoÃ¢ÂÂs goal in the 1-0 victory came from Diego GodÃÂn in a corner move that saw the visitors make sure the ball went in by any means necessary. At the other end, the back four withstood OsasunaÃ¢ÂÂs usual ferocity and physicality.
Ã¢ÂÂCourtois showed in a Ã¢ÂÂBritishÃ¢ÂÂ ground that heÃ¢ÂÂs ready for the Premier League,Ã¢ÂÂ purred an admiring Kiko Narvaez in AS, on the keeper currently on loan from Chelsea.
JosÃÂ© Luis Mendilibar, OsasunaÃ¢ÂÂs gruff manager, could do nothing but admire the new buff, bludgeoning AtlÃÂ©tico, despite the defeat. Ã¢ÂÂAtlÃÂ©tico beat us in intensity and aggression.Ã¢ÂÂ
The victory puts AtlÃÂ©tico back on track to achieve their main goal this season - Champions League football, which in turn will help fight off the financial crisis they are currently embroiled in after years of hirings, firings and terrible signings. It also gave another indication that, despite SimeoneÃ¢ÂÂs ways being a little basic and a mix between Dave Bassett and Kevin Keegan, they are getting results.
Ã¢ÂÂ(After the game) the AtlÃÂ©tico players embraced as if Charlize Theron had promised them a date with her ten twin sisters,Ã¢ÂÂ noted IÃÂ±ako DÃÂaz-Guerra in his match report in AS.
LLL was hoping - against all odds, of course - thatÃ¢ÂÂs AtlÃÂ©ticoÃ¢ÂÂs incredible and admirable rebirth might see the side sneaking an appearance on the front page of either of the Madrid papers on Tuesday morning, considering there isnÃ¢ÂÂt too much else going on in Mordor this week.
Sadly, it was not to be with Real Madrid and JosÃÂ© Mourinho still dominating the landscape. And thatÃ¢ÂÂs a big, old shame as its the clubÃ¢ÂÂs neighbours who are the true big story in the Spanish capital at the moment. And for once, itÃ¢ÂÂs for the right reasons.