By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Radamel Falcao had never scored a free-kick in his professional career. But with just seconds remaining and Atletico Madrid awarded a set-piece chance just outside the area, the Colombian begged to be given the chance to fire his side to victory. And he did not disappoint.
Falcao rifled the ball over the wall and under the crossbar to hand Atletico a seventh straight success in La Liga and their third win in as many games via a last-minute winner. Excelling in extremis, their stunning streak goes on and, after eight rounds of La Liga, Diego Simeone's side sit proudly alongside Barcelona at the summit.
Can they stay there? It remains unlikely, but as the weeks go by, Atletico are still surprising and, on their day, they have shown they can beat anyone, as Premier League leaders Chelsea can testify after their 4-1 humbling in the Uefa Super Cup back in August.
|ATLETICO MADRID'S RUN IN LA LIGA
|Levante (a)||August 19||Drew 1-1|
|Athletic Bilbao (h)||August 27||Won 4-0|
|R.Vallecano (a)||September 16||Won 4-3|
|Valladolid (h)||September 23||Won 2-1|
|Betis (a)||September 26||Won 4-2|
|Espanyol (a)||October 4||Won 1-0|
|Malaga (h)||October 8||Won 2-1|
|R.Sociedad (a)||October 21||Won 1-0|
The capital club have admitted it will be difficult to hang on to their prized asset in the summer, aware that several sides may be willing to cough up the player's €60m release clause and that such a sum will pay off their debts as well.
For now, however, he is here and he is happy - and Atletico are making the most of it. That's 12 goals now for the former Porto striker, including nine in La Liga, while the 26-year-old has also netted four times for Colombia since the season started; in total he has 16, then, from his last 10 matches. Like Lionel Messi.
With the South American striker in their side, anything is possible, and Real Sociedad were the latest team to find that out on Sunday, having earlier looked the more likely to claim all three points - especially when Carlos Vela went through alone after 78 minutes, only to fire over the bar.
But with Simeone in charge and Falcao up front, Atletico possess a new-found competitiveness not always associated with the Madrid outfit in the past. And as a result, Atletico have now established themselves as the third best team in La Liga.
Their squad still seems somewhat short compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid, however, and an injury to Falcao would have serious ramifications. Mind you, if Barca were to lose Messi or Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo, they would suffer, too.
Atletico's record against Real in the derby has been atrocious, with the Rojiblancos' last win in the fixture coming way back in 1999, but on this form Simeone's side (currently eight points ahead of their local rivals) will hope to exorcise that particular ghost when the two teams meet in the first weekend of December.
Then, two weeks later, they travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona in the 16th round of La Liga. And if, by then, they are still top of the tree, it will perhaps be time to truly believe in a title tilt. At the moment, however, such talk remains premature, despite the club's finest form since the double season of 1995-96 and the brilliance of Falcao.