After the King’s Cup clásico in the Bernabéu — a feisty but fair encounter — Lionel Messi stalked the underground car park seeking redress with Álvaro Arbeloa, according to reports, and also had a few choice words for Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka. The 1-1 tie, which sets up a fascinating return leg at the end of the month, produced 20 goal attempts and six cautions, although Ricardo Carvalho was fortunate not to be punished for a handball in the area.
Atlético’s semifinal match against Sevilla in the Calderón a day later made the clásico look like a tickling contest. Three red cards, three penalties for three handballs, the stadium a seething pit of bile and Diego Simeone patrolling the touchline, exhorting the home support to even greater decibel levels; in short, the usual, when Sevilla comes to town.
Particular vitriol was reserved for former Atlético player José Antonio Reyes, whose presence on the field was greeted with ear-splitting distaste. Geoffrey Kondogbia, a rubber-limbed menace in midfield who gave Atlético’s back line a torrid evening with his lolling yet physical runs from midfield, received a similar reception when substituted.
At the end of the game, Sevilla keeper Beto almost punched Diego Costa’s head off in a penalty area challenge, but by then the Brazilian had delivered the evening’s knock-out blow.
In the absence of Colombian goal machine Radamel Falcao, Costa kept displayed the cojones to bury two penalty kicks to give Atlético a 2-1 advantage ahead of the return at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Álvaro Negredo scored from the spot for the visitor after Diego Godín had handled the striker’s chipped effort.
“It was a fair result and the tie is open, 50-50 for both sides,” said Simeone after the match.
The return legs of both ties are scheduled for the last week of February, by which time Falcao will be back for Atlético and the effects of Unai Emery's Sevilla revolution will be fully apparent.
Since the former Valencia coach replaced Míchel, the southern side has certainly looked more coherent, and has picked up four points in the league from the last six. Before Míchel was axed, the club was on a run of four points from a possible 21.
Atlético hosts Betis this weekend and will hope to recover from a fourth league defeat of the season away at Athletic Bilbao last week. Betis is in fifth, level on points with fourth-placed Málaga in what is shaping up to be a multi-team scrap for the fourth Champions League spot also involving Rayo — which travels to Sevilla — Valencia and Levante.