Atletico Madrid were back on form in La Liga on Sunday evening as they overcame visitors Betis with a second half goal from Diego Costa, to move within nine points of leaders Barcelona at the top of the table.
Substitute Costa headed in a 62nd minute corner from close range to secure the points, in what was initially a fairly incident free encounter which sprang into life after the goal. Betis reacted angrily to going behind and to Costa’s physical approach to the game and they had four players booked in a ten minute spell towards the end of the game.
A dull first half ended goalless as forwards on both sides were unable to find their shooting range and visitors Betis survived intact despite some erratic goalkeeping at times from their man between the posts Adrian San Miguel del Castillo.
Atletico’s excellent Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – on loan from Chelsea – continues to impress and kept things tidy for the home side, although he had far less work to do than his Betis counterpart Adrian.
After facing each other over two legs in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals in January, these two sides know each other well and were aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses going into the match.
In Betis’ cup visit to Atletico the Andalusian side left on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline and could only hold their opponents to a 1-1 draw in the return leg. Last time these two sides met in La Liga, meanwhile, Atletico emerged 4-2 winners at the Manuel Ruiz de Lopera Stadium down in Seville, and the men from the capital were too strong again in their fourth meeting of the season as Costa’s goal made the difference.
The big Brazilian came on for Adrian in the 57th minute and his combination play with Falcao, who was back in the starting line-up following his recent hamstring problem, made in immediate impact. Costa does not always get the credit he deserves considering the ‘dirty’ work he does for Diego Simeone’s side and after setting up Koke for a chance on goal the attacker was on target himself within five minutes of entering the play, heading in the simplest of chances for a crucial goal.
However, less than five minutes later showed his dark side with a studs down shin challenge on Ruben Perez which infuriated the visiting side. Wild tackles went flying in and a mass brawl broke out on 68 minutes, with four Betis players, Perez, Damien Perquis, Jose Cañas and Nacho all getting booked in a 10-minute spell of madness.
Although Costa himself and his fellow Brazilian colleague João Miranda both received bookings themselves Atletico remained focused and saw out the remaining 20 minutes to secure three more important points.
Indeed, Atletico Madrid’s home form in all competitions over the last year is remarkable – it is nearly 10 months since they have suffered a defeat on home territory and they have now won 23 of their last 24 matches at the Vicente Calderon.
As the game drew to a conclusion Simeone was animating the crowd and gestured for them to enjoy the final few minutes.
At the final whistle match winner Costa perhaps wisely ran straight off down the tunnel and into the changing rooms. He had scored the winning goal, wound up the Betis players with a foul or two of his own and then survived a series of retaliation attempts by the visiting side.
The result leaves Atletico those aforementioned nine points behind leaders Barcelona - who are yet to visit the Vicente Calderon - and moves Simeone’s men seven points ahead of their city rivals Real Madrid with 16 games left to play this season.
MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS