Striving to keep the big cats from straying
For the Lions of Bilbao, the silly season continued on Monday in Madrid
Tall tales of big cats stalking the English countryside have given the media its traditional summer story after the supposed sighting of a lion in Essex, but for the Lions of Bilbao silly season continued on Monday in Madrid as they found themselves comprehensively mauled by "El Tigre."
Radamel Falcao, Atlético's Colombian striker, played what his coach described as an "almost perfect" match in the Vicente Calderón, scoring three and terrorizing an Athletic Bilbao backline desperately missing the castigated World Cup-winner Javi Martínez.
Along with Fernando Llorente, Martínez has been sent to the Spanish equivalent of Coventry - Albacete, perhaps - for expressing his desire to leave the club, which is nothing unusual when the summer transfer window remains open. What is not so common was the response of Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa, who immediately dropped both players from his squad.
The warning signs were clear and loud last week when Athletic shipped five at home to Betis and on Monday's evidence, Bielsa would be wise to reinstate his Spain stars for next weekend's matches - if of course they are still at San Mamés after transfer deadline day on Friday.
Without Llorente to lead the line and Martínez to steady the tiller at the back, Athletic are as toothless as the Essex lion... which, incidentally, investigators believe is either a wildcat or a well-fed domestic one.
On countless occasions the visitor tried to play its way out of defense, conceding possession in and around its own penalty area. Rarely did more than three consecutive passes find their intended recipient and if not for some heroic work from goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz, and the intervention of the woodwork, the score line would have reached even more embarrassing proportions.
Bielsa has a problem: two world-class players who don't want to play for him. Diego Simeone, who twice acknowledged the crowd as it thundered his name in glee, has quite another: a player who is very happy to be at Atlético but, simply by virtue of being as good as he is, will likely be the subject of a crazed bid from a rival sometime before midnight on Friday, around the same time the European Supercup will be drawing to a close in Monaco.
If Atlético returns with the trophy at the expense of Chelsea, fine. But if it comes back to Madrid without Falcao, the season will be equally as long at the Calderón as in Bilbao.