“Shut your f*cking mouth!” screamed Joao Felix towards someone on Atletico Madrid’s bench after rattling in a 20-yard strike against Villarreal on Sunday.
Team-mate Renan Lodi, who had been on the Portugal international's back about his recent lack of goals, was suggested as a possible target.
But it could well have been coach Diego Simeone who was being singled out by the former Benfica starlet after the Argentine coach benched the forward, only brought him on for the injured Thomas Lemar at half-time.
Felix scored Atletico’s second to seal a crucial 2-0 victory over Unai Emery's side, celebrating with fury and bringing some desperately needed stability to the Liga leaders, who have been creaking for the past month.
From Atletico being near nailed-on title winners, suddenly the race is back on in La Liga, with Real Madrid and Barcelona snapping at the Rojiblancos' heels.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have stayed in the hunt through dogged tenacity despite injury problems holding them back, while Ronald Koeman’s Catalans are resurgent and growing into their skin.
On Sunday, Atletico host Real Madrid in a derby which presents a chance for the visiting champions to land a meaty blow on the wobbling leaders. Atletico still hold a five-point lead and with a game in hand on both Real and Barca, but their grip on the trophy has been weakening.
Their painful February followed a special run of 15 league wins in 16 games, with their only defeat a 2-0 capitulation against Real in December. It was a cold reminder of what they are up against as they bid to win the title for the first time since their historic 2014 triumph.
On 8 February, Atletico drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo having previously conceded just three goals all season at the Wanda Metropolitano all season. They backed that up with a narrow 2-1 win at Granada before a 1-1 stalemate at Levante.
Then, as they hosted the east coast side again immediately due to a quirk in the schedule, they lost 2-0 for only their second defeat of the league campaign. Three days later they were toothless against Chelsea in their Champions League last-16 first leg, suffering a 1-0 defeat in Bucharest thanks to Olivier Giroud’s sensational overhead kick.
That made it two draws and two defeats in just over a fortnight, having failed to win just seven games throughout the rest of the campaign.
The European performance was a step backwards tactically, as Atletico retreated from a more attacking gameplan that has been on show this season, and instead went backs-to-the-wall.
It was a mistake against a Chelsea team that can still be got at despite their new-found solidity under Thomas Tuchel, but clean sheets are Simeone’s safety blanket. At times it appeared they were using six men at the back.
After those Levante games, which they dominated but failed to win, Atletico were left unsure of their identity. A total of 42 shots across both matches had yielded just one goal, while the team had gone seven games without a clean sheet.
Chelsea made it eight in what was the longest such run in Simeone’s time at the club, covering nearly a decade.
The coach, unrepentant after the Chelsea defeat for his plan, stuck with it in the 2-0 win against Villarreal and was finally rewarded with a shut-out.
"I love it when players show pride,” said Simeone, of Felix’s fury. “How long had it been since Joao scored? If players are rebellious, give them to me!"
The coach had a point, with Felix having managed just one goal in his previous 14 matches across all competitions. The forward's anger at least showed the fight that Atletico are renowned for and yet have lacked in recent weeks, running out of gas with the car halfway up the hill.
Part of the problem has stemmed from Kieran Trippier’s 10-game suspension for breaking betting rules ahead of his move to Spain. The last clean sheet Atletico kept before Sunday was the former Tottenham right-back’s final game before his ban kicked in, a 2-0 win over Sevilla on January 12.
Without Trippier, Simeon's system does not work as well. Marcos Llorente has been forced into a right wing-back role, which not only does not play to his strengths also denies Atletico his power up front.
Yannick Carrasco’s absence with a foot injury has also told, with the Belgium international having been unavailable for both recent defeats. Neither Carrasco nor Trippier are star players, but they remain key cogs in the Atletico machine.
Atletico do not have the squad depth to cope with first-choice players dropping out. Nor do they have a structure that works perfectly in the defensive set-up Simeone has resorted to in big matches, because it isolates leading goalscorer Luis Suarez.
The Uruguay star has 16 goals in 21 La Liga games since leaving Barcelona, but in the Real Madrid and Chelsea losses he was not given the support he requires, as the rest of the team played too defensively and left him feeding off scraps, aimlessly wandering.
Something has to change this time.
“Playing Real Madrid is something special, you want to show your ability in these games, everyone is watching and waiting to see what you can do,” said Suarez.
“They are great games to play in and we have the added incentive of trying to avenge our defeat earlier in the season, we want to show why we’re top of the league.
“I’ve always been very competitive and wanted to show what I can do, and that I can keep improving. I’ve always been stubborn and determined. This is a very ambitious team and we want to go a long way. No-one can take that ambition away from us.”
Suarez is right; everything is still in Atletico’s hands. Beat Real Madrid on Sunday and suddenly the picture looks rosier, and they can build confidence and hope ahead of the second leg against Chelsea.
Since Atletico won the league seven years ago,, Simeone has struggled to find the right balance between attack and defence. This season is the closest he has come to that ,and it is why his team are top of the table, despite their recent problems.
It is also why Felix is angry, and he may be left out again for either the hard-working Angel Correa or Llorente on Sunday. Atletico’s record signing at €126 million (£113m/$142m) is not at a club that best fits him, yet.
It may one day, but not if Simeone keeps retreating into Atletico’s defensive shell at the first sign of danger.
Simeone blamed bad luck, too, with the ball simply not going in against Levante in the second game, a match which Atletico might easily have won on another day.
“Their first goal bounced off two of our players,” said Simeone. “In the second half the team wanted it, we attacked and created chances, defended well. It was at the heights we have been at this season.
“We don’t have to change. Keep in this line, keep trying, defending well. Today the goal didn’t come.”
It did not come against Chelsea, either, and if it does not against Real Madrid then the doubts and pressure will continue to rise at Atletico, with fruits of their fine start suddenly at risk.