The phrase “typical performance” has become clichéd around these parts, thanks to yours truly. Today at the Vicente Calderón, however, Atlético Madrid gave what has become a typical Atleti performance. Eschewing glamour for efficiency, relying on execution instead of the spectacular, the Colchoneros took a 1-0 victory out of the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal, using a confident, controlling performance to take an edge ahead of next week’s second leg at Athletic in Bilbao.
Those descriptions — efficiency, execution, confident, controlling — have also become clichéd when applied to Diego Simeone’s team, a testament to the consistency by which Spain’s co-leaders have won their games. Losing once in all competitions this season, Atletico’s proved thin margins are not necessarily precarious ones. While the holders’ one-goal edge leaves Ernesto Valverde’s team within striking distance, they’ll have to make up that distance against a team accustomed to maximizing their margins.
That margin was crafted in the 41st minute on Thursday when a cross from the right from Koke met an onrushing Diego Godín. The Uruguay international met the ball just outside the six-yard box, hammering a header past Iago Herrín that proved to be the match-winner.
Holding their guests to one shot on target, Atlético were never in danger of giving up their lead despite ceding 56 percent of the match’s possession. That, however, has become a Atletico’s M.O., with the team averaging only 48.3 percent possession in La Liga this season. Having given up only 12 goals (in 20 games), however, Atleti have Spain’s best defense, one that kept Athletic from testing Thibaut Courtois over the match’s final 82 minutes.
The result completed a week of first leg wins for Copa’s quarterfinals favorites. Real Madrid began the round on Tuesday with a 1-0 win at Espanyol, while Barcelona and Real Sociedad recorded Wednesday wins over Levante and Racing Santander.
Atletico’s win leaves all four La Liga qualifiers for the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League in front ahead of next week’s second legs. Real Madrid host Espanyol on Tuesday, Barcelona and Athletic are at home on Wednesday, while Real Sociedad travel to Racing on Thursday.
Quarterfinal results (first legs)
Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1
Real Sociedad 3, Racing Santander 1
Levante 1, Barcelona 4
Atlético Madrid 1, Athletic Club 0