Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone rose from the bench to urge his team forward in the final minutes of Sunday's league game at home to Valencia. Atleti's Argentinian new chief was hoping to see his side register a fourth successive win to continue their surge up the league table. No winner came, but there was a sixth consecutive clean sheet, more evidence that the man famously kicked by David Beckham in France '98 has sorted out their defence.
Fans of Spain's third best supported club (average crowd 41,105 last season) have long learnt to expect the unexpected. Their club has been renowned for instability and infighting which has led to a lack of consistency - a graph of Atleti's league finishes in the last 15 years looks like a rollercoaster. That they suffer in the shadow of Real Madrid makes it worse, and not just because Real habitually win Spain's capital derby.
Atleti lost Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and David de Gea in the last close season. Maybe it was time for Forlan to move on after a poor 2010-11, but Aguero and De Gea were Atleti heroes who are genuinely missed. They played a part in the rojiblancos winning the Europa League and European Super Cup in 2010, but league finishes of 9th and 7th in 2010 and 2011 were not good enough.
Sadly, Atleti, boasting nine Primera Liga titles and 5th place in the respected all time Spanish league table, have become a selling club. They still splash out big money and invest in emerging talents, but without the regular guarantee of Champions League football, those players invariably move on and Atleti have grown used to losing their leading lights. At least Atleti fans, who are arguably Spain's most passionate, wish their former heroes well when they leave. Simeone was always welcomed back and was happy to return to where he's loved - which isn't in the Beckham household. Five thousand fans attended his first training session, evidence of an upturn in the general mood.
After the key summer losses, Atleti started this term hesitantly, despite the record €40 million (£33m) signing Falcao promising much after joining from Porto.
When the Colombian scored hat-tricks in consecutive games in September, Falcao was on track to become a hero, yet Atleti registered just three more wins from their next 13 league games. They were also humiliated in the Copa del Rey by third division Albacete, a club part-owned by Andres Iniesta who grew up in a nearby town. That result led to the December dismissal of coach Gregorio Manzano, who did so well at Mallorca before being sacked by Sevilla and Atletico in succession - he'd only been in charge at the Vicente Calderon for six months.
Former captain Simeone, a key player when Atleti won a league and cup double in 1996, replaced Manzano and despite saying that things "need to be taken slowly" the Argentinian known as 'El Cholo' has begun a transformation.
Atleti drew at Malaga and then beat Villarreal 3-0 before recording a 4-0 victory at a Real Sociedad side unbeaten in seven games for their first away win of the season. Just four of the starting XI had been at the club when they won 4-2 against Sociedad last season.
Atleti then overcame Osasuna to register a fifth successive clean sheet. They'd not managed that in the nine games before Simeone took over. They're also scoring, with the back in-form Falcao bagging his third hat-trick of the season in the Basque country to take him up to 14 league goals so far. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more, and it's better than anything Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan could manage at Atleti in their first season. Nor should the goals be taken for granted - Atletico only scored in two of their opening seven matches.
Falcao, a fast, robust striker completely different in style to the aforementioned Atleti heroes, has also scored three in the Europa League, the only competition where Manzano prospered, reaching the knock out stages after ten games and eight wins. The rojiblancos face a tie against Simeone's former club Lazio, but it's in the Primera Liga where his success will be judged.
Atletico have risen to seventh and the recovery has been labelled 'the El Cholo effect'. Simeone, 41, stated that he wants to "see an aggressive, strong, combative and determined team" and he's getting just that. He started coaching in Buenos Aires with Racing in 2006 and been at six clubs since, five in the Argentinian capital. He suffers no fools and eyeballs his players one on one before matches to whip up the testosterone. It's working.
With fourth place Levante sinking after their blistering start and Valencia picking up just two points from their last four matches, a Champions League spot is a realistic aim. Just two points separate Levante in fourth and Atleti in seventh. In fact just 10 points separate Levante from Racing Santander in 18th.
The mattress-makers have waved goodbye to players looking for Champions League football in the past, but Simeone is working wonders and if Falcao et al remain in form they could be back featuring again on the biggest stage by staying put.