By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Advantage Atletico. While Diego Simeone's side stayed top of La Liga by beating Elche on Friday, Chelsea's title tilt teeters on the brink after Jose Mourinho's men lost at home to Sunderland on Saturday. And as the two teams prepare to meet in the Champions League next week, it's the Spanish side with the edge.
Mourinho has already complained in the build-up to that tie - via assistant manager Steve Holland - that Atleti will benefit from an extra day's rest ahead of the sides' semi-final meeting on Tuesday and sarcastically applauded the officials on Saturday after Sunderland were awarded a contentious late penalty for a supposed Cesar Azpilicueta foul on Jozy Altidore, which Fabio Borini put away to seal a surprise 2-1 win.
But such conspiracy theories and complaints won't wash. Quite simply, his side weren't good enough over 90 minutes and just one goal from a set piece against the Premier League's bottom team tells a tale of the Blues' blues at the Bridge on Saturday.
And this latest performance will beg the question: If Chelsea cannot break down the Premier League's third-worst defence at home, how can they expect to penetrate a team that has conceded only twice to Barcelona in five games this term?
|MOURINHO & SIMEONE - THE STORY SO FAR
|Jose Mourinho largely got the better of Diego Simeone in the pair's meetings in Madrid, as coaches of Real and Atletico, respectively.
Mourinho's men beat Simeone's side three times in La Liga (4-1, 2-0 and 2-1), although the Argentine did have the last laugh when his Atleti team beat Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey last season at, of all places, the Santiago Bernabeu.
That was the first Atletico win over Real since 1999 and meant Mourinho's tenure came to an end without a major trophy at the end of his third season in Spain, which had started with the Spanish Supercopa.
Now, in the Champions League, the two meet for a fourth and a fifth time.
Elche had been the better team in the first half and Atleti were made to work extremely hard to win all three points, but again Simeone's strategy of taking one game at a time (and each one more important than the last) paid off with a vital victory. Mourinho's moaning did not.
"We still won't talk about winning La Liga," Simeone said on Friday. "We know how difficult it will be. The players put in a great effort and now they will think about recovering for the match on Tuesday, which is important for the club and the history of Atletico."
Mourinho, meanwhile, kept it brief but highly controversial: "There are only four things I want to say," he revealed afterwards. "First, congratulations to my players, who gave everything. Congratulations to Sunderland, because they won. Congratulations to (referee) Mike Dean for a fantastic performance and congratulations to (referees' chief) Mike Riley because what they did during the season is fantastic for how the championship is going."
Chelsea's assistant coach Rui Faria had to be restrained during fierce protests and Mourinho is likely to be hit with a heavy fine for his latest comments after he lost a league match at home as Chelsea boss following 77 games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge.
The defeat leaves his side needing other results to go in their favour in the title race now, while Atleti remain in control of their own destiny in La Liga - just three wins from claiming the Primera Division crown. Much like last season, when Simeone's side beat Mourinho's Madrid in the Copa del Rey final at the Santiago Bernabeu and the season ended in turmoil for the Portuguese, pressure is mounting again for the 51-year-old following events this weekend and recent results. Advantage Atletico.
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