This feature is part of Virtuoso
For all of the guile and trickery that wingers and creative midfielders possess, there may be nothing more entertaining than a centre-forward at their absolute best. Atlético Madrid have had their share of world-class strikers in the past decade, ranging from hometown hero Fernando Torres to their bevvy of South American maestros in Diego Forlán, Sergio Agüero and Radamel Falcao. But while they have succeeded in replacing one after the other, to little or no detriment, the Colombian was in a realm of his own.
Falcao’s predatory instincts saw him score a staggering 70 goals in 91 appearances across two seasons for Atlético, punctuated by Europa League and Copa del Rey triumphs. But while he may have been top-scorer in their continental triumph and man of the match in its final, his performances pale in comparison to his UEFA Super Cup display in 2012.
Falcao laid waste to Chelsea, Champions League winners of the previous season, with a first-half hat-trick that ended the contest so shortly after it had begun. El Tigre was irrepressible in delivering a multifaceted master-class of centre-forward brilliance.
He offered them no quarter from the opening whistle. His game revolves around the combination of movement and clinical finishing, resulting in a menace that few peers possess. He had scored three against Athletic Club just four days prior and if Chelsea expected to be let-off, they were not.
Falcao hit the bar early on, and it was more a sign of Chelsea’s careless defence than any profligacy. After six minutes, he slipped through the defence to latch on to a through-ball. He readjusted his sights, then casually chipped it over an incoming Petr Čech. The sight of the ball bouncing in off the post amidst a flailing David Luiz only added aesthetic beauty to the opener.
His second came 13 minutes later, as Chelsea’s frailties became obvious to all. Following some smart interplay, Falcao squeezed some space out of Ashley Cole, transferring the ball to his left foot and then curling it past the outstretched hand of Cech. It was much more impressive than his opener. The ball arched smoothly, nestling into the top left corner. Such finishes are commonplace in the game but still draw stunned gasps of awe as the ball follows its destined trajectory. Drawing from the inspiration of his namesake, the legendary Brazilian Falcão, Radamel was putting on a show.
While John Terry missed another European final through suspension, Chelsea had a full-strength side. Branislav Ivanović, Gary Cahill, Cole and Luiz were seasoned defenders, and they had Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel to protect them. Further forward, Ramires, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata were deigned with providing attacking impetus. But Torres was unable to conjure any magic of his own against his boyhood club, watching Falcao establish himself as the king of the Stade Louis II.
If on paper Chelsea seemed sufficiently equipped to repel the threats of Atlético, it must have been Falcao’s aura of fear that induced vulnerability in the opposition. Chances continued to fall at his feet but, within this side, one chance gone begging would simply be replaced with yet another.
His third would arrive just before the merciful whistle of half-time, adding further salt to the wound. After a rapid counter, Arda Turan released the ball at just the right time to Falcao, who burst forward with impeccable control and drove the ball past Čech’s right. It was 3-0 at half-time, and Falcao had a first-half hat-trick. If the UEFA Super Cup is meant to be a glorified friendly, the Colombian ensured it would at least be entertaining for the 14,000 in attendance. The Chelsea faithful would have no choice but to appreciate the brilliance of Falcao.
Post the break, Miranda made it 4-0, chipping the ball past Čech. Cahill reduced the arrears ever so slightly, slamming the ball in, but the game now resembled a pre-season friendly than a final with silverware on the line. Atlético were allowed to take it easy after their star striker settled the deed in the first 45 minutes. Chelsea couldn’t have been more eager for the final whistle, the sorry recipients of a performance of dominant centre-forward play.
Falcao, having won the 2010/11 Europa League with Porto, had missed the chance to play the 2011 Super Cup having already moved to Atlético. He made no mistake this time, adding another medal to his growing collection. It was peak Falcao: physicality, movement, pace and clinical finishing rolled into one. Diego Simeone was effusive in his post-match praise. “I’m speechless,” he said. “I really can’t describe it. What he is doing is indescribable. He’s a lad that whenever you set the bar high he sets it higher and rises to the occasion.”
Falcao notched 28 goals in the season to come, including an astonishing five in a 6-0 dismantling of Deportivo. But it was this display that sticks in the mind, for the occasion and the manner of his goals. At the top of his game, he was the best centre-forward in the world.
His hat-trick against Chelsea was a perfect encapsulation of his best qualities. If space is granted to Falcao, there is no need to finish the game. A touch of irony arising from this game is that the Stade Louis II would become his stamping ground after the season completed. He would also ply his trade for Chelsea for a season, to little success, similarly to their hapless state on that starry night by the coast.
As the game wound down, the Atlético fans serenaded their former star, Torres, with applause and a chant. It was an appreciation of their past; for Falcao was their here and now, a man whose performance simply added to his genius. He was the man of the match, and their man of the moment.
By Rahul Warrier @rahulw_
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp