Falcao – The usual suspect

‘At last there is life beyond the usual suspects’, noted the Atleti page in AS. While messrs Messi and Ronaldo are where we expect to see them – at the top of the goalscoring table – they have company. And on the strength of this season’s showing, there is no reason to suggest why Radamel Falcao should fall by the wayside in this individual race to be Spain’s top scorer.

The latest clasico – thankfully – provided more entertainment than scandal, and ramped up the intrigue and duel between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo with both scoring twice. But while the two continue their personal battle, there is another candidate – and not just for top scorer, argue some, but even for the Ballon d’Or. There is someone else who has reached the sheer performance levels that it is news when they don’t score.

Shortly after Barcelona and Real Madrid – and Messi and Ronaldo – ended up all square on Sunday night, Falcao set Atletico Madrid on the way to a 2-1 win over Malaga, albeit his early goal needing a last minute own goal from the visitors to settle the tie. It was the Colombian’s eighth League strike this season, and with Messi and Ronaldo both reaching that figure two hours before, the three are now level pegging in the race for the pichichi.

It is, admittedly, as premature to discuss who will be the season’s top scorer as it is who will win the title. International weeks do tend to conjure up these debates, however, as La Liga stars head off to represent their respective nations.

Throwing his hat-trick against Chelsea in the UEFA Supercup into the equation, Falcao’s start to the season has been nothing short of sensational, with a goal average of over 1.5 per game. Maintaining this goalscoring rate over the course of a full season is perhaps unlikely, but there is little reason to expect his form to dramatically trail off. After making the move to Europe from Argentina, he has been one of the most prolific strikers on the continent. At Porto his goals-per-game ratio was just over 0.8, something he carried over in his first season with the Rojiblancos.

These are heady times at Atleti. They are level with Barcelona on 19 points having taken all three points off third-placed Malaga at the weekend, and are eight ahead of the city neighbours Real Madrid. The club President is already talking up possible Cup doubles, and is not ruling out a serious title challenge.

While the international break will allow Diego Simeone to take stock, for his star striker there will be no such respite. Yet whether the international commitments are a drain on Falcao, or are quite the reverse, is open to debate. Because just as at Atletico, with his national side the striker is riding on a wave of optimism.

In the last double-header round of World Cup qualifiers in South America, Colombia took all the headlines. They thrashed the reigning Copa America champions Uruguay 4-0 at home, with Falcao starting off the scoring. The tricky tie away to Chile did not materialise, though they were aided by a routine early bath for Sevilla’s Gary Medel. Colombia ran out 3-1 winners, and Falcao again scored. After many years of underachievement the Cafeteros believe they have one of the strongest generations of players in decades. Falcao, naturally, leads the line.

While neither of the two stories owe themselves exclusively to Falcao, his goals, his work rate and his very presence have been fundamental in firing Atletico into second in the Spanish league and Colombia into second in the South American World Cup qualifying group. Whether he can carry both those teams to where he is on an individual level – at the very top – is an entirely different proposition.