Familiar issue reappears as Atlético bid slammed in Bilbao
Atlético Madrid were unable to extend their winning streak to three matches on Sunday, and what really happened in the Basque Country could prove fatal for the league leaders.
Iñigo Martínez propelled Ibai Gómez’s corner in the 86th minute to hand Athletic – runners-up in two Copa del Rey finals this month and without a win in seven overall – a shock 2-1 win at San Mamés . Stefan Savić had equalized himself from a corner not 10 minutes earlier, and a draw would have allowed Atlético to continue in first place for at least another week.
It would also have meant four wins in Atleti’s remaining games – and one point for Barcelona in two weeks – would have been enough to clinch the team’s first league title in seven years.
Now Barcelona can take the lead with a win over Granada on Thursday, and a draw against Atlético on May 8 – as well as four wins in their other four games – will see Barca take the trophy after being 10 points behind. Atleti in February.
Diego Simeone blamed Sunday’s loss on a poor first half and regretted his decision to deploy virtually the same 11s who had solidly beaten Eibar and Huesca earlier in the week. Of course, good. Yet there is another, much deeper problem that once again bit the team in Bilbao:
Atlético allowed another late goal.
No other La Liga top-seven team conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes than Atlético, with seven goals.
To be fair, some didn’t really matter much to the end result. For example, Jorge Molina scored late for Granada in Atlético’s 6-1 final victory, Ante Budimir headed a header in the 80th minute for Osasuna before Atleti secured a 3-1 victory, and Jorge De Frutos’ breakaway goal in the 95th minute doubled Levante’s lead in a 2-0 win in Madrid a few months ago.
But this remains a major problem that Simeone has not resolved despite months – literally the value of a season – warning signs centered on the alarming physical fall of his team towards the end of the matches.
Atlético’s defense scored all three goals below in situations where the team was on track to win or draw:
February 8: Facundo Ferreyra (89th minute)
(Ferreyra hasn’t scored since.)
March 7: Karim Benzema (88th minute)
April 25: Iñigo Martínez (86th minute)
(Prior to this header, Iñigo had not scored in 2020/21.)
Instead of seven possible points in these three games, Atlético has collected two. This five-point swing completely changed the title race.
It’s the difference between winning a league and losing it.
It’s not over yet for Atleti, and at least the math is pretty straightforward now – five wins, or whatever. Relegation wrestlers Elche are next ahead of the all-important trip to Catalonia, and the rojiblancos continue to depend on themselves – five straight wins and the title is theirs, regardless of the results elsewhere.
However, Simeone’s men can’t count the fortunes in their favor if they can’t execute the fundamentals on their own – like getting a tight result.
Championship teams resist under adverse circumstances. Atlético have faced cases of COVID, multiple injuries and sheer bad luck over the past two months – conditions beyond the control of the players and Simeone.
But scoring Iñigo Martínez from a set piece is something that is firmly under a team’s control, and something they just didn’t do as time passed on Sunday night. This could turn out to hurt Cholo and co. more than they know.
- Seville (22-4-7, 70 points) continues to roll. Even a blatant timing error cannot derail this train – Julen Lopetegui has led his side to five straight wins and seven out of eight La Liga wins.
Hot catch here, but everything points to the May 9 showdown at Real Madrid being decisive. Sevilla have not beaten Madrid since 2008 and last drew there in 1993.
Real Madrid (21-8-4, 71 points) could have received a fatal blow after drawing Real Betis on Saturday night, but Atlético’s loss means Zinedine Zidane’s men – still alive in Champions League – remain in the race to successfully defend their crown.
Los Blancos will need a fortune beyond their own results, but they will host Osasuna next Saturday, a game sandwiched between their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.
- Barcelona (22-5-5, 71 points) beat Villarreal with two goals from Antoine Griezmann (/ eyeroll /) on Sunday afternoon. Barca have won 18 of the last 22 La Liga games after a 4-2-4 start and can finally take top spot with a home win over Granada on Thursday.
Expect no help from visitors – Granada has made 24 all-time visits to Camp Nou and lost all of them.