On Tuesday night Atletico Madrid hammered Juventus with two second-half goals at the Wanda Metropolitano.
In what was meant to be a tight, cagey affair, Madrid exited the locker room at half time exuding confidence and, as Diego Simeone would soon point out, cajones.
In the 78th minute, Jose Gimenez tucked a loose ball from a corner into the back of the net, triggering his 48-year-old manager’s exuberant celebration.
Soon after, Diego Godin tucked the deflection from his previous header past the clueless Szczesny. Proving that 34-year-old center backs can be as acrobatic as any other footballers, Godin spun 360 degrees before finding the ball and knocking it off Cristiano Ronaldo and into the goal.
Though Atletico Madrid ended the match with a comfortable 2-0 lead on aggregate heading into the reverse fixture in Turin, the Spanish club deserved more. Alvaro Morata became the latest victim of VAR after his header in the 70th minute was called off after the referee ruled Morata had pushed Chiellini before scoring. The reality of the situation, however, can be found in Chiellini’s credit card statements that will inevitably show payments for the same acting classes attended by Salah and Neymar. In short, Chiellini proved that defenders dive too.
The best highlight of the match, however, came on the sidelines. In the seconds following Gimenez’s opener, Diego Simeone turned to the Atletico supporters, leaned back, and throttled his crotch in their direction. Though many were concerned by his motive for celebrating so… exotically…, he clarified where his enthusiasm came from after the match: “It's not a nice gesture, I'll admit, but I felt the need to do it. It was such a tough game, we fought so hard, and Diego Costa worked really hard when he wasn't 100 percent fit. I had to show what I was feeling. I can only apologize if anyone was offended, but I did it from the heart."
When it comes to overtly sexual celebrations, Diego Simeone is a repeat offender. As he said in the post-match press conference, “I did it as a player in Lazio-Bologna, and I did it again to show our fans that we have cojones.” Word to the wise, if Diego Simeone ever moves to your neighborhood, try not to get too competitive at the annual block-party, or it may result in the Argentinian manager thrusting his crotch at a collection of young families.
However, the main takeaway from Madrid’s performance last night was not Simeone’s celebration or Juventus’ defensive collapse. Instead, it was Atletico Madrid reminding the rest of Europe that they are still a threat to be reckoned with. After a shaky run of form in La Liga, many pundits wrote Atletico off as an aging side that needs a revival if they hope to win trophies any time soon. Though they looked like dynamite last night, there is truth behind the criticism of their squad.
Madrid’s back four contains Juanfran (34), Godin (33), Gimenez (24), and Luis (33). This aging bunch, however, proved critical in Madrid’s victory. Not only did the defense provide both goals, but they also prevented one of the most potent sides in Europe from getting on the scoresheet. Ronaldo, Mandzukic, and Dybala struggled for chances and, when they occasionally managed a shot on goal, were stifled by the overwhelming presence of Jan Oblak.
Atletico’s attack resembles a patchwork of rejects and rebels. There are, of course, the two Chelsea exports Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata who are both desperate to prove they can still perform at their previously elite levels. Thomas Lemar, the latest Monaco graduate, can only hope to play at the standard of his former teammate Kylian Mbappe. After a £63m transfer last summer, Lemar has yet to prove his caliber as the club’s record signing. His fellow countryman, Antoine Griezmann, no longer the subject of transfer speculation, has now dedicated himself to Atletico Madrid. After rejecting a move to play alongside Messi, however, Griezmann plays every game with the weight of delivering the performances he promised to the Madrid fans following his contract extension.
From top to bottom, Atletico Madrid are a squad hell-bent on proving the critics wrong. Whether it is the old regime of Godin and Luis revealing they’ve still got Champions League quality at 33 or it is Morata ferociously attacking the net, desperate to prove his caliber, Madrid are angry. Much of this team suffered the catastrophic last-minute collapse against rivals Real in the 2016 Champions League final. They remember the anguish of defeat that left their successful season that included winning La Liga in tatters. This Atletico Madrid side, therefore, are out for revenge. Yes, Manchester City look unbeatable, Juventus aren’t dead yet, and Barcelona still have the greatest player of all time, but if Atletico continues to perform as solid defensively and as lethal offensively as they proved capable of playing last night, they might just go all the way.