The La Liga title race is wide open after Atletico Madrid slumped to a stunning 2-0 defeat at Levante on Sunday at the Ciutat de Valencia.
Levante went ahead in the seventh minute via an own goal and, after surviving wave after wave of Atletico's attacks, doubled their advantage through David Barral midway through the second half. Atletico hit the woodwork through Adrian, a second-half substitute, but were unable to avoid a fourth away defeat of the season.
It could turn out to be a damaging defeat indeed. A run of nine consecutive league victories had seen Atletico build a four-point advantage atop the table heading into the weekend. After Sunday's loss, however, Atletico's lead is looking highly precarious.
Rivals Real Madrid still trail by six points but have two games in hand, including a home match against Valencia later Sunday. Winning both matches in hand would pull the Blancos level atop the table, though Atletico hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a superior record in head-to-head league matches this season.
Barcelona, meanwhile, trail Atletico by three points, having played the same number of games. Barca and Atletico are set to meet at the Camp Nou on the final day of the seaso—meaning the title race is still wide open for all three challengers.
Levante, meanwhile, moved up to 10th on 45 points.
But while Sunday's loss will be painful for Diego Simeone's side, B/R's Guillem Balague noted that Atleti still have their fate in their own hands.
Levante took the lead in the seventh minute, taking advantage of a defensive lapse on a corner. After Pape Diop played a corner from the right, the ball bounced off Atletico defender Filipe Luis and into the net past Thibaut Courtois.
Atletico looked to equalise quickly and had two chances in quick succession in the 13th minute. Diego Godin played a long pass into the box for Diego Costa, who controlled the ball expertly, turned and forced a save from Keylor Navas. The rebound fell to an unmarked David Villa, who blasted over the bar.
Costa had another opportunity in the 21st minute, springing Levante's offside trap to race free behind the defence. But with only Navas to beat, Costa shot tamely at the goalkeeper. As half-time neared, Levante's Diop hit a free-kick straight at Courtois in the 32nd minute, and Atletico's Toby Alderweireld forced a save with a low, swerving shot at the near post four minutes later.
Atletico continued to push for an equaliser early in the second half. Costa and Koke combined to tee up Arda Turan in the 54th minute, but Turan's shot was blocked. Two minutes later, Costa dribbled to the byline before pulling back to Turan, who blasted over the target.
Luis had a shot blocked in the 63rd minute, and Costa poked a volley just wide two minutes later from Diego's free-kick. But for all their attacking menace, Atletico soon found themselves further behind.
Barral passed to Victor on the left, and Victor crossed back into the middle for Barral, who steadied himself with his first touch before bouncing his shot past Courtois at the near post.
Suddenly losing 2-0, Atletico needed goals quickly. Adrian nearly pulled one back in the 77th minute after pulling down a pass over the top from Turan, but his curling shot hit the far post and bounced away harmlessly.
The chances kept coming, but Atletico failed to capitalise, Tiago volleying well wide in the 86th minute and Turan shooting at Navas four minutes later.
At full-time, Diop was involved in an incident with Atletico's fans. Diop later said, per Football Espana, that Atleti's fans had directed monkey chants at him.
|Atletico Madrid Player Ratings|
|Adrian (for Villa, 46')||N/A||7|
|Arda Turan (for Garcia, 46')||N/A||7|
|Diego (for Koke, 62')||N/A||7|
Raul Garcia said Atletico must forget about Sunday's loss and concentrate on their remaining matches. As quoted by Inside Spanish Football, Garcia said, "We don't have to justify anything. We have to think of the next game. We just have to keep going, win our next game and after that, go for it in the last one."
Atletico manager Diego Simeone said the loss will only make La Liga's title race "more fun." As quoted by Inside Spanish Football, Simeone said:
We’ve always said that we’re competing against two really powerful rivals and it’s difficult to see them losing games. Today it was our turn to lose. We have three fantastic and emotion filled weeks ahead of us, of pure football.
Levante host Valencia next Sunday and finish the season at Malaga on May 18.
Atletico host Malaga next Sunday before finishing the season at Barcelona on May 18.
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