Madrid inflicts Atlético’s 1st loss in league this season

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid beat city rival Atlético Madrid 2-0 to tighten the Spanish league title race on Saturday, dealing the leader its first loss in the competition in 10 months.

Casemiro opened the scoring for Zinedine Zidane’s team in the 15th minute. A long strike by Dani Carvajal, that ricocheted off the post and the back of goalkeeper Jan Oblak before going in, sealed the victory midway through the second half.

Atlético entered the match at Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium with the chance to damage Madrid’s title defense. Instead, Madrid was able to move to within three points of Atlético, climbing into third place with one of its best performances this campaign.

Atlético still has a game in hand, but the loss also gives second-place Real Sociedad the opportunity to move ahead when it hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Atlético had not lost in 26 straight league matches, dating back to Feb. 1 when it fell 1-0 at Madrid.

Diego Simeone’s side entered the derby as favorite after winning seven straight rounds and only conceding two goals in the entire 10 league matches it had played this season.

But despite its irregular season with unexpected losses to smaller rivals, Madrid was up to the challenge against another high-profile opponent.

“As a coach, I cannot ask for more,” a satisfied Zidane said. “We played a very complete match, and against a great rival that had not lost in 26 games. We pressured them well from the start and did not let them get comfortable, and we kept it going without letting up for the entire match.”

MADRID DOMINATES

Madrid disrupted Atlético’s attack from the start.

With Toni Kroos excelling with his long passes from midfield, Madrid established a fluid attack that dominated the first half.

Karim Benzema forced Oblak to push his powerful strike onto the bar in the 10th. But Oblak could do nothing to stop Casemiro from heading in Kroos’ corner kick to the near post.

Seeing his team struggle, Simeone switched from his initial formation of 3-5-2 to his standard 4-4-2. He then tried overhauling his lineup at halftime, sending on forwards Thomas Lemar and Ángel Correa and left back Renan Lodi.

Lemar came close to leveling in the 55th when Marcos Llorente’s low cross reached him at the far post, only for him to fire the ball into the side netting.

Simeone then went as far as taking off star forward João Félix for Saúl Ñíguez.

But Carvajal put the result beyond doubt in the 63rd when he collected a clearance outside the area and unleashed a swerving strike that ended up in the net after the ball rattled the post and smacked into the back of the diving Oblak. The spectacular goal came in the right back’s first appearance after missing four matches recovering from a muscle injury.

Atlético was unable to force a save from Thibaut Courtois until 10 minutes remaining when he blocked Ñíguez’s header.

Simeone said that he had “erred in the lineup and the approach to the game.”

“They started stronger, in better positions, and hurt us with the pace they put on the ball,” Simeone said. “We had a chance to get back in it with the shot by Lemar… but it is clear that our first half was not good. They played better.”

FOR GRANDMOTHER

Javier Ontiveros dedicated the goal that helped Huesca beat Alavés 1-0 to his ailing grandmother who is in a hospital fighting COVID-19.

After curling home the winner, Ontiveros removed a shin guard as he ran to the closest television camera. He broke into tears as he worded “I love you” and pointed to the shin guard, which appeared to hold a family photo.

“I hope she gets out soon because I need her and love very much,” he said in a televised interview after giving Huesca its first win of the season.

OTHER RESULTS

Sevilla edged Getafe 1-0 with a late own-goal by defender Xabier Etxeita.

Manu Vallejo also scored late to salvage a point for Valencia in a 2-2 draw with Athletic Bilbao, which had overcome an early deficit at Mestalla Stadium.

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