Atletico Madrid vs. Elche: 6 Things We Learned
Atletico Madrid saw off Elche 2-0 on Friday night, but it was far from a convincing display.
Diego Simeone will be happy with the three points as his men close in on the title, but with Chelsea visiting on Tuesday night, he might have wanted more from his men.
The Champions League semi-final clash is one of a handful of big games that are left this season for Atletico, who are performing at a level that is exceeding their wildest dreams at the start of the campaign.
Here are six things we learned from their win over Elche.
La Liga Title Race Is Still Alive
Atletico Madrid's win puts them in a commanding position in the La Liga title race, but their performance left a lot to be desired.
It's conceivable that they may stumble in their trip to Valencia, which could leave everything hinging on that final visit to Barcelona.
We may end up with a situation where if Barcelona win, Real Madrid win the title, and if the Blaugrana lose, Atletico do.
The latter outcome would be the preference for the fans and even some of the players at the club, but professionalism dictates they'd still have to go for the win.
Either way, there's plenty of mileage in La Liga yet this season.
Chelsea Games Will Be Cat-and-Mouse Affairs
The 2-0 win over Elche was far from a thrill-a-minute affair.
But it was good preparation for what the Champions League semi-final clash against Chelsea is going to be like.
Both Diego Simone and Jose Mourinho prefer for the other team to attack and then to hit them on the counter.
This means we could end up with a cat-and-mouse clash on Tuesday night at the Vicente Calderon.
It may not be until the final 45 minutes of the second leg before this tie really opens up.
Atletico Better Hope Semi Doesn't Go to Spot Kicks
Diego Costa has missed a few penalties for Atletico Madrid this season, and last weekend was the final straw for Diego Simeone.
The manager was in favour of David Villa taking the one that Raul Garcia earned on Friday night, holding up his fingers to indicate the former Barcelona player's number.
But the Spaniard hit a poor effort at the goalkeeper and was denied.
Costa later won another spot kick, and with Villa off the pitch, Costa converted it himself.
But it wasn't enough to remove the idea that if the Champions League clash with Chelsea goes to penalties, Atletico might not have the mental strength to emerge triumphant.
Simeone Shows He Has Guts
Taking off David Villa after an hour for Jose Sosa showed Diego Simeone has the guts to make big moves.
It was Atletico's third substitution, which meant Sosa was committed for the rest of the game.
Diego Costa, who picked up a nasty cut last weekend, was always a candidate for being taken off, but Simeone decided to go for it and leave the hitman on.
It paid off, with Sosa delivering the corner that Joao Miranda headed home.
And it worked once more when Costa won that late penalty, which he also dispatched.
King Costa Not Quite Comfortable
Even though he found the net, scoring his 27th league goal and taking him within one of top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa was not at his best.
Chelsea will be pleased that the striker played all 90 minutes and looked out of sorts for the majority of the game.
Before he scored, he spurned a one-on-one chance after Diego Ribas played him through.
Not being in scintillating form didn't stop the Elche defenders trying to take pieces out of him, though. Costa ended up in the referee's notebook for reacting badly to one such hack.
Jose Mourinho will be taking note of how to wind him up.
Atletico's Set-Piece Danger
Atletico broke the deadlock thanks to a set piece.
Jose Sosa whipped in a corner from the right, and the reliable Joao Miranda made the ball his own, powering home an excellent header from some way out.
It was not the first time this season we've seen them capitalise from dead-ball situations.
Simeone's team always try to make the most of them and have reaped their rewards.
By contrast, Barcelona are terrible at defending against set pieces and have paid the price at times this season.