Villarreal 0-2 Atletico Madrid
After recent setbacks in the Champions League and in La Liga, league leaders Atletico Madrid finally got back to winning ways as they picked up a crucial 2-0 win at Villarreal.
Atleti took an early lead through an Alfonso Pedraza own goal, and Joao Felix came on as a second-half substitute to score the game-sealing goal.
With the win, the Rojiblancos extended their lead over second-placed Barcelona to five points and still have a game in hand.
As for the Yellow Submarine, their poor run of La Liga 2021 results continues. Unai Emery’s side are now down to seventh in the table as their winless run has reached seven games.
Highlights of the game
Villarreal came into their match with Atletico winless in the league over the last month, and they started out much more aggressively. Dani Parejo and Samuel Chukwueze both had long-range strikes from outside the box, although neither was particularly troublesome for Jan Oblak.
It took Atleti nearly half an hour to force Sergio Asenjo into action, and the Villarreal keeper did well to save Saul Niguez’s shot from distance.
But Asenjo was unable to keep the ball out of his goal from the ensuing corner. Thomas Lemar’s cross into the box was met by Stefan Savic, whose header was well-saved by Asenjo. Unfortunately for Villareal, the ball hit defender Alfonso Pedraza as he was falling and went into the net. The goal was up for review for a possible offside, but upon closer inspection by VAR, the goal stood.
Villarreal came very close to an equaliser on 35 minutes as Parejo expertly found Gerard Moreno off a free-kick. After failing to get the ball under control, the Spanish international striker was still able to head the ball past the onrushing Oblak, but Atletico were able to clear the ball off the line.
Villarreal very nearly gifted Atletico a second goal nine minutes into the second half as centre-back Pau Torres turned the ball over inside their own penalty box. But luckily for them, Asenjo made another great save to deny Luis Suarez’s powerful shot.
However, Asenjo would have no chance against Joao Felix’s strike on 69 minutes. The Portuguese playmaker came on at half-time, and he pounced on a poor headed clearance by Pau Torres by drilling the ball into the bottom corner.
The home side tried to pull that goal back just seconds later as Chukwueze found Gerard Moreno unmarked at the six-yard box. But the Villarreal striker clearly used his arm to get off a shot, which was pushed onto the post by Oblak.
Villarreal would create a couple more chances to score. The first fell to substitute Carlos Bacca, who shot wide after getting free at the edge of the six-yard box. Then, another substitute — 19-year-old Alex Baena — struck the post and forced a fantastic save from Oblak inside the final 10 minutes.
But it was not to be for the Yellow Submarine, as Atleti held on for a much-needed victory that takes them another step toward the La Liga title.
Villarreal threw everything they had at Atletico. They controlled 63.5 per cent of possession and had a 19-6 advantage in terms of shots.
Moreno, who came into the match in spectacular goalscoring form — he’d scored in his last five league games in a row and had eight goals in his last seven games in all competitions — did not have his shooting boots on for this one.
And in typical Atleti fashion, they made their limited shots count. Five of their six shots were on target, and two went in the back of the net.
Joao Felix’s goal will be especially encouraging for Atleti. That is only his second league goal since early November as he has significantly cooled off after a hot scoring start.
With Luis Suarez’s goals drying up — that’s now five straight games without a goal for the 34-year-old — the Rojiblancos will need Felix to step up for the remainder of the season.
The win was a good confidence-booster for Atleti ahead of the big derby with Real Madrid next week. The Rojiblancos have a six-point lead over their fierce rivals, and victory at home would put a huge dent to Real’s hopes of retaining the title. Stay tuned for SBOTOP’s in-depth preview of that huge derby showdown.
As for Villarreal, they have their own derby coming up as they take on Valencia in the Derbi de la Comunitat. Despite being at the Mestalla, the La Liga 2021 betting odds should have Villarreal favoured to end their winless drought against Valencia, who have been struggling themselves this season and are dangerously close to the relegation zone.
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