Atletico Madrid’s LaLiga title charge is back on track after a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday.
Diego Simeone’s side had picked up just five points from their previous four top-flight games to give rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona hope of reining them in at the summit.
They secured a vital three points against Unai Emery’s side, though, courtesy of Alfonso Pedraza’s first-half own goal and substitute Joao Felix’s second-half strike.
The result meant Atleti restored their five-point advantage over second-place Barcelona, who have played a game more, while Real Madrid – who Los Rojiblancos face next weekend – are six points off the top in third.
KEY WIN ON THE ROAD
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) February 28, 2021
Atleti were off the pace in the early stages, yet they forged ahead after 25 minutes in fortuitous circumstances.
Stefan Savic’s back-post header from Thomas Lemar’s cross was kept out by Sergio Asenjo, but the ball rebounded into the net off the unlucky Pedraza – the goal ultimately given following a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside.
A sprawling Jan Oblak denied Gerard Moreno soon after as Villarreal went in at the break behind despite having had nine shots to Atleti’s three.
Asenjo superbly pawed over Luis Suarez’s fierce strike shortly after the interval before getting down well to repel Angel Correa’s deflected drive from distance.
Joao Felix wrapped up a vital triumph in the 69th minute, controlling the ball on his chest before arrowing a sumptuous half-volley into Asenjo’s bottom-right corner from just inside the penalty area.
Alex Baena struck the post from distance and forced Oblak into a wonderful save inside the final 10 minutes, but Atleti ultimately held on to take a significant stride towards a first title since the 2013-14 season.
What does it mean? Resilient Atleti bounce back
It was not always pretty but after a torrid recent run Simeone will scarcely care. Villarreal were the better side in the first half, yet a disciplined second period from the visitors – lit up by Joao Felix’s fine strike – ensured they returned to winning ways.
Emery’s Villarreal, meanwhile, have failed to win any of their last seven LaLiga matches – the worst run by a single Villarreal coach in the competition since they went six straight games without a win under Javi Calleja in December 2019.
Simeone joins history books
This victory meant Simeone pulled level with Luis Aragones as the Atleti head coach with the highest number of victories in all competitions. His 308th win came in his 512th match in charge, with Aragones reaching that figure in 612 matches.
Suarez not at his best
Suarez had scored in his precious three visits to La Ceramica, but the Uruguay international was well shackled by the Villarreal backline. He had just one shot and made no key passes before he was substituted with 14 minutes remaining.
Atleti host Real Madrid in that mouth-watering derby next Sunday, while Villarreal visit Valencia on Friday.