Atlético Madrid prolonged their faltering start with a 1-1 draw against Racing Santander on Saturday. Even with a man advantage for the majority of the second half, they lacked the finishing touch to nip the win from a feisty Santander side. Racing came off a 4-1 drubbing at El Sardinero by Getafe, including a hat trick by Soldado, so Racing did not have the greatest levels of confidence leading into a match against a highly explosive offensive team.
Atlético had many of its players participate in the two World Cup Qualifying matches in the previous weekend, so they were not at full strength. Diego Forlán sat on the bench after playing for Uruguay, Simão Sabrosa started but played in Portugal’s two qualifying matches, Maxi Rodríguez was not in the eighteen as he picked up a muscle strain with Argentina, and Sergio Agüero also participated in the two Argentina matches. This clash with Racing also commenced an era without John Heitinga, as he made a €7 million move from Atlético to Everton, and starting at right back for Los Colchoneros was Juan Valera, who interestingly enough played for Santander on loan last season.
For the first half hour, Atlético had the better of the play, but both teams were lifeless. Paulo Assunção fizzed a shot past Santander keeper Toño in the ninth minute but also breezed just wide of the post. Sergio Agüero fired a shot in the 21st minute but headed straight towards Toño and was able to make the save. Despite Atlético controlling the ball at a two to one ratio, Racing created the best chance in the first thirty minutes as talisman Pedro Munitis provided a lovely through ball into the box for Alexandre Geijo. Geijo, however, was caught in between taking the shot and crossing the ball back to Munitis, and Geijo’s effort flashed across the six-yard box, went wide of the post, and was too far for Munitis to get on boot on it.
After this opening stanza, Atlético seemed to get their legs under them and began an assault on Toño’s goal. Simão missed a golden opportunity in the 34th minute when he shanked a shot from twelve yards after Agüero slipped in a beautiful ball into the penalty area. José Jurado rifled a shot towards Toño’s near post after a quick dribble and run in the 38th minute, but Toño parried it away successfully. Florent Sinama-Pongolle made a run into the six-yard box, and if it were not for a desperate yet timely challenge by Sepsi László, Sinama would have Atlético up 1-0. With all this attacking pressure by Atlético, that left gaps in the defensive line, and Geijo almost made Atlético pay for their men going forward in the 38th minute, but a last ditch sliding tackle in the box by Tomáš Ujfaluši took the ball from Geijo’s boot. Racing made another foray into Atlético’s box in the 41st minute, and Oscar Serrano’s combination with Manuel Arana sent Arana towards goal, but a kick save by Sergio Asenjo stopped the attack.
Atlético finally took advantage of a goal-scoring opportunity when they scored in the 43rd minute to give the supporters in the Vicente Calderón something about which to cheer. Off a corner kick, Racing headed the clearance out of the penalty box, but only towards Jurado, and he took the ball first time on the volley and breached the Racing defense and Toño’s goal. As Atlético is wont to do, they conceded a goal within a few minutes of scoring themselves. The build-up to Racing’s goal started with a hopeful long ball into the box for Geijo. He laid the ball off for Arana who in turn laid the ball off to Serrano, and his late run gave him the space to shoot and score. The Atlético defensive pressure was lacking, and their attempts to stab tackle the ball away from Racing were deemed fruitless as Racing equalized one minute into first half stoppage time.
To jump-start the attack in the second half, Abel Resino substituted Agüero out for Diego Forlán. Atlético missed his prowess towards goal as well as his off-the-ball runs, and it was clear that Agüero ran out of steam by the end of the opening forty-five minutes. When José Ángel Crespo received a red card in the 47th minute for illegally tackling Simão when he had a clear goal-scoring opportunity, Atlético’s second and third goals became inevitable. These goals never materialized, as Santander’s defensive discipline kept Atlético out of their net. Atlético constructed some offensive attacks but never really put their boots on Racing’s throat when they had the man advantage for nearly the whole second half. Atlético’s best chance occurred in the 58th minute when Forlán’s swerving free kick hit the post. Atlético played as though they already had the lead and merely tried to sit on the score line.
After being humiliated by Málaga 3-0 in the opening weekend, many expected Atlético to fight back and take out their anger on a Santander team who were embarrassed themselves by Getafe. At the end of the match, the players were clearly frustrated, but that frustration did not compare to Los Colchoneros in the stands, who whistled, heckled, and demanded the immediate dismissals of club president Enrique Cerezo and general manager Miguel Ángel Gil Marín. It may be hyperbole to talk crisis in the south of Madrid, but Atlético’s history shows that this type of situation is ripe for internal and external turmoil. Soon, the chants for Abel Resino’s head will commence and all of this occurring when they kept their two stars Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán. Atlético Madrid has a Champions League group stage match against APOEL Nicosia on Tuesday and then a collision with La Liga champions Barcelona at the Camp Nou on the weekend. If they do not beat APOEL and get some sort of result against Barcelona, all hell may break loose within the boardroom and the Vicente Calderón.