We are 8 games into the La Liga season and as you might expect there are 2 teams that are unbeaten; as you might also assume they’re from Barcelona and Madrid. However, that is where it stops being quite so routine. While it is true that Lionel Messi and friends top the division with 22 points it is not a Cristiano Ronaldo led Real Madrid that are providing the challenge. Atletico Madrid sit in 2nd place in the league, on goal difference and wearing the number 9 shirt is arguably the most complete striker in the world at the moment.
In recent years Atletico have had some very talented strikers. Fernando Torres became “El Nino” at the Vicente Calderon and when he moved to Liverpool in 2007 the next man off the production line of goal getters was Sergio Aguero. He formed a deadly partnership with Diego Forlan, a man sometimes derided in England for his poor time at Manchester United but with undeniable talent, and when those two moved on in 2011 it was Radamel Falcao who was brought in, at great expense (40 million euros) from Porto, to replace the goals the two South Americans had provided.
It is fair to say that the Colombian Falcao has stepped up to the mark and then some. So far in his Atletico career he has appeared in 59 games and scored 48 times, including 12 in 9 games this season. This is not something new, at Porto the 5ft 10 goal machine was scoring at an incredible rate playing 87 games and finding the net 71 times. While Ronaldo and Messi are inarguably the top 2 players in world football there is an argument that Falcao is gaining ground on them fast, very very fast. It is true that El Tigre (The Tiger) is not as complete a player as the men who dominate the Bernabeu and the Nou Camp but he is very close and in truth the comparison is unfair. Falcao is an out and out striker whereas Ronaldo and Messi are asked to play a slightly different role; one that allows them to roam the field which makes them a lot tougher to pick up. As a general rule the Colombian can be found prowling the penalty area, acting as the target man for Atleti’s attacks. However, that doesn’t mean he’s just scoring tap ins after the rest of the team do all the work.
Falcao has the ability to score just about every type of goal, despite his fairly small stature his phenomenal leaping ability allows him to out jump defenders which makes him just as much a threat from set pieces as he is from open play. In this video we see all 36 of the goals he scored in his first season playing for Madrid, including those scored in the Europa League:
It is fair to say that Atletico spent well. Especially as they were in the Europa League, which is a competition their number 9 has an incredible relationship with. In the 2010-11 season while playing for Porto Falcao scored 17 times in the competition, breaking Jurgen Klinsmann’s record for goals in a single European club tournament which previously stood at 15. Here are those 17 goals:
Again, we see every type of goal, including a couple scored in the snow which should shut up the people who make stupid criticisms such as “yeah, he’s good but could he do it on a wet night in Stoke?” about players who have never played in the Premier League.
Worryingly for everyone else in pre-season Falcao was asked how he could improve his game and said he would like to learn how to take free kicks. The quote was largely ignored, until last weekend when, with the score at 0-0, Atletico Madrid won a free kick on the edge of the area in the 89th minute against Real Sociedad. Falcao picked the ball up and basically demanded to take it. Arrogant? possibly, but not that arrogant when you consider the results:
Coach Diego Simeone said in the post-match interview that Falcao had been practising all season long and had finally got to a point where he felt confident enough to take a free kick in a match and score. So La Liga, and the rest of Europe, should probably watch out, El Tigre is ready to score from just about anywhere now.
If Atletico are to continue snapping at the heels of Barcelona it will predominantly be down to Falcao maintaining his level of performance, and to be honest that is pretty likely because in La Liga, it is not just Ronaldo and Messi…