Miguel Ángel Gil was worried, like all Atlético fans, and approached his group of players to shake them up with a kind of 21st century version of a rousing speech from the great Santiago Bernabéu. And he threw down the challenge: "We have to win a league of five."
He was, of course, alluding to those from Real Betis, in third, down to Real Sociedad, in seventh. It is there that lies the European places from the championship, where there are two tantalising places for the Champions League remaining and others that are less appealing. Being in the Champions League has become critical in recent years. It is, as they say in bullfighting at Las Ventas, 'the one that gives and the one that takes away'. No self-respecting player wants to play for a team that is not in the Champions League.
A changing, distracted Cholo
The reaction followed and Atlético scored three without conceding. A strong result is the healthiest injection a group in crisis can receive, and Atlético are in crisis. A crisis of confidence, which is a serious one, a crisis that was already beginning to translate into a very different impression of the hitherto undisputed leader, Simeone, whose television hagiography (an enjoyable watch but one that surrounds him with a glamour that competes with his warrior side) has left a sense of confusion. Just like with his appearance on El Hormiguero. It would seem that Cholo is no longer the same, and that he is beginning to be distracted by other things.
Barça in the mix
But let's return to 'LaLiga of five', which is going to be tough. Betis announced on Sunday that they are not going to let themselves be unseated easily from there. Barça found their lost goals against Napoli in Valencia, a symbolic stage for the club, and they returned home with Aubameyang off the mark, with the match ball, and the Dembélé issue resolved. Xavi has imposed his standard on his bosses and has done well.
Then there's Villarreal who got Danjuma back just in time for this final push. La Real, though, suffered a setback at San Mamés that allows Athletic to return to the same fight, one in which they were quite distant.
It's going to be exciting.