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I know it's too late to have much motivation to relive last season, but there were so many interesting things that happened that if you have time, I suggest you have 1 last look back at it.

Here's the master version which I'll make minor updates to:


Cup Relief: A review of Atletico Madrid’s 2009-2010 season
by Sridhar Sarnobat

Among Atletico's high profile signings were exciting young goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo for big money, former Spanish international defender Juanito and Tiago on loan from Juventus. Reyes returned from his loan at Benfica. Curiously, he marked his return to Atletico by returning to Benfica's La Luz in one of Atletico's opening pre-season games.

Before the league campaign got underway, Atletico had to determine which European competition they would be playing in - negotiating on the field with Panathanaikos. Atletico showed the quality of a side that finished 4th in the 2 previous league seasons. Th 3-2 result in Greece, while excellent on paper, was the result of gifting the newly-managed (?) Greeks opportunities to retain the intrigue in the 2nd leg. 7 days later Atletico would extend their aggregate lead by another 2 goals and confirm their place in Europe's premier competition for the 2nd season running. A daunting draw saw them grouped with Chelsea and Atletico's conquerors in Europe the previous seasons - Porto.

These competitive fixtures before the league season gave no headstart on their domestic opponents in the opening months. Matches until late November, domestic and European, were extremely disappointing - 9 defeats and 5 draws. Among the notable matches were yet another heavy defeat to Barcelona, though this time Atletico did not disgrace themselves. They went to the Nou Camp to attack and created several scoring opportunities. However their frail defence could not contan Guardiola's silky smooth passing machine that were the current holders of the Champions League. They sufferend home and away defeats to Porto - 5 goals against none scored - a more sobering experience than their away goals elimination the previous season. They tasted a 3-2 home loss to Real Madrid, completing a decade without victory against them. The first 70 minutes of this game constituted a familiar derby - Real took an early lead, Casillas made comfortable saves from half chances, and kept scoring easily. But a Sergio Ramos sending off changed everything with the visitors 3-0 ahead. Aguero and Forlan both profitted in quick succession and set up an edge-of-the-seat finish.

They endured 3-0 away defeats to modest Malaga and Osasuna. Last-minute goals conceded condemned them to a draw at home to Mallorca and away to Deportivo la Coruna. The game at home to Mallorca summed up their season up to this point. Reliable Forlan missed a penalty, the opposition had 2 players sent off, Forlan scored, then Mallorca equalized in injury time.

Atletico only managed 2 respectable results in these opening months - a narrow win against Real Zaragoza, and a brave draw against Valencia. Unlike in previous seasons at the Mestalla they came to win and took an early lead through Sergio Aguero. Midway through the 1st half conceded 2 goals in the space of 2 minutes. But an injury time equalizer by Maxi gave them encouragement (which they did not build on).

Atletico were showing signs of the form that saw them relegated 10 years earlier. Statisticians, after careful studying of the dusty archives, confirmed that this was Atletico’s worst league start in 56 years.

Needless to say, Atletico were out of the Champions' League without registering a win in the group stage. The 4-0 defeat to Chelsea on matchday 3 was the final nail in the coffin for Abel Resino, whose tremendous revival of Atletico the previous season was a distant memory. The only positive note of sorts in this competition was a late equalizer by Sergio Aguero at home to Chelsea 2 weeks later, by which time the rich London club had already assured themselves of progress in the competition (?) and by which time Quique Sanchez Flores had been appointed the new manager. Flores’ successful spell at Valencia stood out on his reume.

Flores did not appear to fall under the category of lucky managers, with his team striking the woodwork 3 times (2 in the space of a minute) away to Bilbao in his first league match in charge (he had won his first match away to Marbella in the Copa Del Rey earlier that week).

This awful start to the season could not be attributed to poor form by either star striker - in almost every league game throughout the whole season in which Atletico found the back of the net, at least one of the goals came from this pair. One of the other few bright spots was the form of Jurado who contributed several goals throughout the season, finally winning over the hearts of the Rojiblancos after always being seen as a product of the eternal enemy Real Madrid.

With November drawing to a close, Atletico staged a revival in the 2 months that followed - winning 5 out of 7 games, beginning with a 4-0 win over Espanyol in which Aguero scored twice and Maxi scored against his old club again. Antonio Lopez grabbed an injury time equalizer at home to Sevilla who were leading at half time. They also registered their first away wins of the season, emphatically at Real Valladolid (4-0) and at Xerez (2-0). Even their 1-1 draw away to Tenerife gave them plenty to cheer about - a man of the match performance by Sergio Asenjo who saved a penalty, and another excellent finish by Jurado. The strangest of blips in this run came against Villareal at the Calderon, where Atletico undeservingly lead at half time, were pegged back just after the restart, and ultimately conceded in injury time to Spanish international Llorente (?) whose team deserved their win for their dominant performance in this modern classic fixture and subjected Atletico to their 2nd last-gasp defeat to Villarreal in 3 years.

During the winter transfer window, Atletico captured the signature of another exciting young Argentine forward Salvio (beating off some top European clubs), making fans breathe a little easier with Aguero continually under the radar of the big spenders. They also signed striker Ibrahima Balde.

This good run of results carried over in to the inital January games, but by the end of the month disappointing results resurfaced with a defeat at Getafe and at home defeat to Malaga.

The first 3 games of February saw Atletico lock horns with Racing Santander 3 times in 8 days with mixed fortunes. The first leg of the cup was a resounding 4-0 victory, and while the return leg 3-2 defeat was acceptable (even considering Atletico threw away a goal and man advantage on the night with 2 minutes of play left), the 1-1 away draw at El Sardinero was not (ex-Atleti player Gonzalo Colsa was on the scoresheet for the home side). The takeaway point from this series was clear: the cup competitions were the only hope Atletico had of salvaging their season. They had qualified for their first Copa Del Rey Final in 10 years, yet were struggling to break into the top half of the table.

Barcelona came to the Calderon not only undefeated but having never been behind in any fixture this season. They had only conceded 1 goal in their previous 6 matches, and last tasted defeat 22 games ago (the 4-3 epic won by Atletico). They had also collected an unprecedented 6 trophies in 2009 - winning all domestic, continental and intercontinental competitions they had taken part in.

Either through bravery or just plain ignorance, Atletico matched Barcelona (aware that Barcelona were missing 3 of their first choice back 4). Reyes put in an incredible performance, highlighted by an assist for Diego Forlan’s opening goal. A brilliant free kick from ex-Barca player Simao gave them a 2-0 lead. Perea looked like the Perea of 2005 - thwarting the ever-dangerous tower Ibrahimovic. Atletico lead 2-1 at half time. The tension among the home fans was tangible, but Atletico saw off the next 45 minutes without conceding.. It would be Valentine’s Day heartache for Barcelona - their only league defeat during the entire season. It also meant they would not break their own record 26 match unbeaten run set in 1976, ended by who else but Atletico.

Youth team goalkeeper David De Gea had now established himself as first choice. It was a bizarre goalkeeping situation where the Spanish U21 goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo was being kept out of the side by the Spanish U19 goalkeeper, equally bizarre as Atletico having both the first and second choice national team goalkeepers 10 years earlier. Those unerring parallels persisted.

The fans would still be reminded of the misery of this season losing their next game at Almeria through a late Piatti goal. More significantly, the progressed in the Europa league through late drama against Galatasaray.

Atletico failed to make home advantage count, being held to a 1-1 draw after Reyes had given his side the lead with a sensational free kick. But again, apparently through ignorance, Atletico went to the Ali Sami Yen stadium with no fear taking the lead thorugh a picturebook goal from Simao. They would be pegged back to 1-1 again within minutes. With 8 minutes left, the home side were reduced to 10 men. Diego Forlan, not in the initial lineup, beautifully slotted home the winner at the end of normal time as the home fans were contemplating an additional 30 minutes. The joy on Forlan’s face showed the fans just how much he cared for the club. Atletico deserved their win, attempting more shots and not even collecting a single yellow card.

But the most spectacular game during the end of this winter season, was the final day of February at home to Valencia. As one fan aptly put it on his blog, it was trainwreck vs. bigger trainwreck. Atletico, in 14th, were 19 points behind Valencia, in 3rd (their league position didn’t tell the story of the problems they had gone through). Both sides were coming off gruelling 2nd legs in the Europa league - Valencia had needed extra time to see off Club Brugge. It was a hot tempered opening half hour: former Rojiblanco Ever Banega conceded what should have been a clear penalty which the referee ignored, and in the resulting counter attack Spanish international Da Silva scored for Valencia. Shortly afterwards, a deliberate handball inside the penalty area by Valencia captain Marchena was also missed. Only after furious protests by Aguero, Simao and Tiago was the 4th official consulted and after which Marchena was correctly sent off (controversy followed in the media debating the authority of the 4th official for this purpose - though they failed to draw parallels with the Zidane incident in the 2006 World Cup final which was decided the same way). There was still the small matter of converting the spot kick, which fell on the shoulders of Forlan but took an age to commence. However, Forlan made no mistake having faced an almost identical situation in the corresponding fixture the previous season. Valencia made a gallant effort to frustrate Atletico for long spells, but eventually Aguero scored to give Atletico a 2-1 lead, and ended his drought of 9 matches without a goal. Miguel was sent off for the visitors, so Valencia were reduced to 9 men again. But there was to be no repeat of the same fixture 10 years earlier when Valencia claimed a win at the Calderon with only 8 men. Finishing was awful for most of the night, but a superb finish by Forlan lifting the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle made it 3-1. The Fondo Sur enjoyed seeing Caesar Sanchez, ex-Madridista, being tormented. Jurado rounded off the night with a magnificently curled finish.

By the end of this game, clearly Valencia had provided enough entertainment and controversy for Atletico fans for one season. But 2 weeks later, there was a huge sigh as the sides would be paired in the Europa league. Fans were unsure how much more drama they could cope with.

The drama continued in the first half of March. Real Zaragoza featured 3 ex-Atleti players - Gabi, Arizmendi and Roberto Jiminez. Atletico conceded after only 7 minutes. Forlan and Simao were taken off midway through the 2nd half, leaving Atletico short of attacking options. Seconds later, Reyes was dismissed leaving Atletico even more depleted for the final 20 mnutes. It was hugely ironic that Atletico would dominate the rest of the game and threaten with many set pieces. But they couldn’t make their changes count. 2 minutes from time, newcomer Ibrahima was introduced as a last hope of salvaging anything from the game. He made an instant impact, scoring an injury time equalizer - his first league goal for the club. The following week
against Osasuna they were reduced to 10 men again (Simao this time the victim) having been the inferior team so far, but improved with their man disadvantage. Jurado grabbed a fantastic 79th minute goal, curling the ball from outside the box into the corner of the net for an unlikely win.

Atletico were held to a goalless draw at home to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa league despite a 2 man advantage and again the return leg looked daunting. But again also they seized the initiative taking the lead twice and though they were held to a 2-2 draw, it was sufficient to progress courtesy of the away goals rule. It was a rare season where Atletico would last longer in Europe than their more illustrious neighbours who were eliminated from the Champions’ League by Lyon that same week.

The same pair of results saw them edge past Valencia in the quarter finals - as they once again drew 2-2 at the Mestalla (though this time Atletico took the lead twice). The return leg was full of noise, emotion and tension. Atletico had excellent socring opportunities (hitting the woodwork), but were also extremely lucky with 2 valid penalty appeals from Valencia turned down and some incredible opportunities of their own. Somehow the game finished 0-0 and did nothing to soothe the tempers of the Valencia fans.

The final 12 games of the league season were very high-scoring both for and against - 41 in total. Atletico won 4 times (Bilbao 2-0, Deportivo 3-0, Tenerife 3-1 and Valladolid 3-1), but none away. Some of the highlights were Juanito scored his first(?) goal for the club against Deportivo, and Salvio scoring his first 2 goals for the club against Tenerife - 3 weeks before his 20th birthday. Atletico lost 6 times in which fans experienced shock (with home losses to Xerez and Getafe, resulting in a description as ‘the team that doesn’t work on weekends’), humiliation (with defeats at Mallorca, 4-1, at Espanyol, 3-0, 2-1 at Villareal, and at Sevilla, 3-1) but took some pride from a brave fight at the Bernabeu which saw former Merengue Reyes grab an early goal and put to rest claims by Atleti fans that his heart was not with Atleti. He had been enjoying a tremendous resurgence in his career after reuniting with Quique Sanchez Flores who brought the best out of him at Benfica.

A glamorous Europa league semi final tie with Liverpool ended April, with Atletico having the psychological advantage of a 2-1 pre-season win at Anfield on top of 2 impressive performances against the same opposition the previous season in the bigger European competition (which both sides would fail to qualify for at the end of the league campaign). Atletico won the first leg 1-0, after Liverpool had traveled 36 (?) hours by train to play in the Spanish capital following the volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland that grounded all air travel. In the return leg Atletico were played the better football yet found themselves 2-0 down 5 minutes into extra time. But Atletico, and Forlan specifically, would have the last laugh as the ex-Manchester United misfit once again scored a winning goal against them.

With the league campaign winding down, Atletico had their first Copa Del Rey final to look forward to in 10 seasons, and their first European final for 24 (?) years.

Atletico Madrid went to Hamburg with the intention of writing themselves into Atletico's history books and made the better start against Roy Hodgson's Fulham who had defied the odds coming from a 4-1 (?) aggregate deficit to oust Juventus, as well as Hamburg themselves in the semi finals. Diego Forlan showed he was the man for the big occasion scoring the opening goal, but Atletico conceded an equalizer 5 minutes later and became progressively weaker until midway through the 2nd half when their bigger squad reimposed themselves over Fulham's tiring bravehearts. There was tension again as the referee signalled the end of normal time, but one man retained his calmness until his chance came 4 minutes from the end. Diego Forlan backheeled the winning goal past a heartbroken Mark Schwarzer. Fulham never gave up until the last whistle but Atletico Madrid would hold onto their lead long enough to win the trophy and give the fans the opportunity to return to the Neptuno for the first time since winning the double 14 years earlier.

Atletico fans were desperately wanting to complete a cup double and kill every cell of doubt that their club was in bad shape as the team travelled to the NouCamp for the final match of the season, the Copa Del Rey final. They were to be denied by an experienced Sevilla side full of quality, after a somewhat lucky opening goal from long range, and a counter attack in the 2nd half having poured forward in search of an equalizer.

The result reminded Atletico that their season overall was a disaster and that they still have a lot to prove. It was the first time they didn't improved on the previous season's points total since returning to the Primera Liga. Requalification for Europe (via the Europa league win) would also be significant to retain Atletico players scheduled to appear in South Africa in front of the footballing world. Somewhat bizzarely, no current Rojiblanco would feature in Spain's conquest of the world (though former players Torres, Capdevila did, while Heitinga collected the unwanted silver medal for the Netherlands). Nevertheless Atletico would be proudly represented with Diego Forlan winning the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament and proving once and for all his true greatness.
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