Ipurua, Eibar – ‘Fabricando Suenos!’ was the phrase that adorned the arched-La Liga pitch-side entrance at Ipurua. Both sets of players – Eibar and Atletico Madrid – walked under it and onto the pitch ready for another battle. Rather symbolically, both clubs have certainly lived up to that statement in recent years.
Eibar – the small club from the Basque mountains – are currently in their fourth consecutive season in Primera; with each season comes a higher placed finish. Not only that but they are currently 7th. Better still, a win would take them to within two points of Real Madrid … the Real Madrid. Not bad for a town with a population of only 27,500.
Atletico, likewise, have had their share of success in recent years. Following the difficult final seasons of Jesus Gil’s reign as president and a demotion to Segunda at the turn of the century, los rojiblancos have won their first La Liga title in 18 years against all the odds. They have also won two Europa Leagues and reached two Champions League finals – and although beaten by Real Madrid on both occasions – they gave their fans the chance of travelling Europe and creating lifelong memories.
Eibar and Atletico are similar in many ways. Their playing styles are dogged and more streetwise than most. Attractive? Not really. But, nevertheless, still worth the watch. They both are fighters. Spirit, hard work, and determination run through the clubs. They both have experimented with changing their football styles and formations but have chosen to revert back to type – just the way we like them. Both draw support from working-class areas – Eibar was well known as an armaments town during the World Wars and Spanish Civil War whilst Atletico have long been associated as anti-establishment. Both have triumphed against expectation. Both have certainly been ‘making dreams.’
Diego Simeone made 10 changes from Atletico’s mid-week Copa del Rey victory over Lleida – Diego Costa was banned following last weeks red-card whilst Stefan Savic and Gabi were also both absent. Despite Eibar’s recent run of form, it was the visitors who started the sharpest. Los colchoneros set the early pace – Antoine Griezmann played a ball into the Eibar penalty area but Kevin Gameiro was late arriving. Moments later an Angel Correa shot went over the bar and Koke hit his shot wide. As newspaper AS put it, ‘the opening 15 minutes was a constant search for an Atletico goal.’
But the hosts stood strong – the defence was tested whilst Dmitrovic had to be alert in goal. However, the inevitable goal eventually arrived just before the half-hour mark. A pass from Griezmann presented Gameiro with space in front of Dmitrovic, who had been deserted by his defence, and the Frenchman calmly slotted the ball into the Eibar net to give the visitors the lead.
Then Eibar began to play themselves – straight from the kickoff it could have been 1-1 but Charles’ header was wayward and flew over Jan Oblak’s goal. The Basques began to rack up a number of chances but few posed much of a threat. Atletico were happy to defend and counter with pace. Inui brought the first-half to a close with a header at Oblak’s goal but it was easily dealt with and the scoreline remained unblemished.
Eibar offered a lot more attacking intent after the break and enjoyed plenty of possession with the introduction of new-signing Fabian Orellana making a significant difference. Just after the hour mark, they went close to an equaliser – Joan Jordan’s header forced a brilliant save from Oblak. The Slovenian goalkeeper was again alert with 10 minutes left to stop a header from Paulo Oliveira after a corner. The instrumental Oblak again showed fine reactions to keep out a low effort from Inui.
Eibar’s pressing and high defence almost resulted in them getting punished on the counterattack in the final stages. Antoine Griezmann was the final piece of a swift counter but his shot was saved by the agile Dmitrovic. Atletico survived the relentless pressure from both the Eibar players and supporters in the final minutes – substitute Kike sent a glancing header just past the left-hand post before Augusto Fernandez got away with handling the ball in the area in the build-up to another brilliant chance which Enrich prodded wide from close range.
Those in red and white – both on the pitch and in the stands – celebrated a hard-fought victory at full-time. Eibar had been undefeated in their seven previous La Liga matches thus the three points– in typically wet Basque conditions – were ones to savour. It was a characteristic Atletico performance. One that has been seen time and time again. Tenacious, resilient, and effective – Marca described it as “a win made in Cholo.” Atletico have and will play in more glamorous settings than Ipurua but it is a testament to Eibar that the big teams keep returning. It is in such humble surroundings that dreams are made.
Los Otros Puntos
- “Without goals, without luck and without explanation,” was the headline of AS on Sunday morning. Real Madrid had dominated and toiled for much of the afternoon but succumbed to a home defeat against an uninspiring but robust Villarreal. Real controlled much of the first-half and had the first sight of goal on 17 minutes when Marcelo lashed a strike from distance which Sergio Asenjo turned away with a strong fingertip save. It was the first in a series of excellent saves from the Villarreal goalkeeper, and Cristiano Ronaldo was the next to be denied when his dipping free-kick was turned against the bar. Pablo Fornals provided a fine through-ball to Carlos Bacca but the Colombian spurned the visitors’ only attempt in the opening period. Ronaldo saw another close-range effort denied by Asenjo just before half-time. But after the break, Villarreal began to up their game – former Madrid player Denis Cheryshev dragged his shot wide whilst Bacca slammed the ball into the side-netting. Luka Modric lifted a great chance over the bar from the edge of the area as the hands on the Bernabeu clock turned towards full-time. Though with three minutes to play, Villarreal countered – Cheryshev passed to Enes Unal whose first-time shot rebounded of Keylor Navas to Fornals, who lifted the ball into the net. “It is one of the worst situations I’ve experienced here,” said Marcelo, who has been at Real for 11 years. “We feel like we are sinking.” The pressure mounts on Zidane, Ronaldo, and Co.
- Hapless, farcical, embarrassing were some of the descriptions of Las Palmas’ performance at Girona. It was only 1-0 at half-time – Cristian Stuani scored a penalty midway through the half – but four goals were shipped in 15 second-half minutes to make the scoreline a humiliating 6-0. But credit to Girona – and Michael Olunga in particular – who took advantage of some dreadful Las Palmas defending to give them their most comprehensive victory in any competitive match in four years. The Kenyan striker scored in the 57th, 70th, and 79th minutes to become the first player to score a hatrick in La Liga for Girona.
- Surely not again! It appeared that Barcelona were going to fail to beat Real Sociedad at the Anoeta for the 8th successive La Liga match. First-half goals from Willian Jose and Juanmi gave la Real a two-goal lead but Barcelona responded with four of their own – Paulinho, Messi, and two from Luis Suarez – meaning that for the first time in 11 years, Barcelona left San Sebastian with three La Liga points.
- “My situation at the club remains unchanged,” Michel said on Monday night but by Saturday it had. His sacking at Malaga was almost as predictable as them playing another match on a Friday or Monday. The 1-0 defeat at Getafe on Friday night was the final straw.
- How many chances do Deportivo La Coruna and Levante need to score – both missed a plethora of late chances to equalise against Valencia and Celta Vigo respectively. Their lacklustre finishing is definitely the reason why they are in the relegation battle.
- The much sought-after Quique Sanchez Flores remains at Espanyol… for now at least.
Getafe 1–0 Malaga
Girona 6–0 Las Palmas
Real Madrid 0–1 Villarreal
Eibar 0–1 Atletico Madrid
Deportivo 1–2 Valencia
Levante 0–1 Celta Vigo
Alaves 1–0 Sevilla
Espanyol 1–1 Athletic Bilbao
Real Sociedad 2–4 Barcelona
Real Betis – Leganes to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Michael Olunga (Girona)
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