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Available on  gplay  » Sports » Soccer PIX: Atletico return to winning ways; Leverkusen go 10 points clear

Soccer PIX: Atletico return to winning ways; Leverkusen go 10 points clear

Last updated on: March 04, 2024 17:57 IST
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IMAGE: Atletico Madrid's Rodrigo Riquelme in action with Real Betis' German Pezzella. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

Atletico Madrid secured a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Real Betis in La Liga on Sunday thanks to an own-goal by Rui Silva and a header by Alvaro Morata as Diego Simeone's side ended a three-game winless run in all competitions.

The hosts came into the match licking their wounds after a humbling 3-0 defeat in the Copa del Rey semis at Athletic Bilbao in midweek, and in desperate need of a win to strengthen their grip on a top-four spot in La Liga.


Atletico moved to 55 points in fourth place in the standings. They are two points behind third-placed Barcelona and six ahead of Athletic Bilbao in fifth, who face each other in Bilbao later on Sunday. Real Madrid are top on 66 points.

IMAGE: Atletico Madrid's Alvaro Morata shoots at goal. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

They started well and pressured Betis early on, with Rodrigo de Paul hitting the post with a close-range strike in the third minute.

Atletico's relentless pressure led to the opening goal when a series of catastrophic mistakes by the Betis defence ended with a miscommunication between three players while trying to clear a Memphis Depay cross.

That caused a pinball effect with the ball ricocheting between them before bouncing off goalkeeper Silva straight into his own net in the eighth minute.

Morata, who had missed a penalty kick earlier in the game, extended the hosts' lead with a header from a rebound off the goalkeeper in the 44th minute.

IMAGE: Atletico Madrid's Memphis Depay celebrates with teammates after Real Betis' Rui Silva scores a goal and Atletico Madrid's first. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

However, Betis got back into the game when William Carvalho came off the bench to reduce the deficit with a superb strike from range into the top corner in the 61st minute and Atletico's goalkeeper Jan Oblak's heroics enabled them to secure a much needed home win.

Oblak made two reflex saves to deny close-range strikes before making two outstanding one-handed stops to deny late efforts by William Jose and Guido Rodriguez that helped Atletico extend their unbeaten streak at home to 25 LaLiga matches.

IMAGE: Bayer Leverkusen's Alejandro Grimaldo celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Leverkusen down Cologne

Bayer Leverkusen went 10 points clear of second-placed Bayern Munich with a 2-0 Bundesliga win over struggling neighbours Cologne, who were reduced to 10-men in the first half of a hotly-contested Rhein derby on Sunday.

Leverkusen extended their unbeaten run to 34 games in all competitions this season and now have 64 points. They extended their lead over Bayern, who drew 2-2 at Freiburg on Friday.

Cologne had Jan Thielmann sent off after 14 minutes and Leverkusen took the lead through Jeremie Frimpong ahead of the break before Alex Grimaldo netted his ninth league goal of the season in the 73rd to end Cologne's brave fight.

Leverkusen, looking to win their first league title, made the short trip across the Rhine river, where the only relaxed figure in the raucous stadium was Cologne's mascot Hennes the goat who munched happily pitchside oblivious to the tension.

Tempers flared in the 12th minute after a foul from behind by Thielmann on midfielder Granit Xhaka and, although the referee initially only awarded a free kick, Thielmann was shown the red card after a VAR check.

IMAGE: Bayer Leverkusen's Alejandro Grimaldo scores their second goal. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Despite the extra man, Leverkusen struggled to create any clear-cut chances until the 37th minute.

Grimaldo's cross was flicked on by Patrik Schick and Frimpong tapped home from close range for his eighth league goal this season as Leverkusen took a 1-0 lead into the break.

Six minutes after the interval, Cologne had a chance to level when Rasmus Carstensen's cross was met by the unmarked Sargis Adamyan, but his volley hit the post with goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky well beaten.

Leverkusen laboured, despite the extra man, and manager Xabi Alonso sent on Borja Iglesias and Amine Adli with 25 minutes left and eight minutes later Adli's work set up the second goal.

He pulled the ball back from the goal line to the edge of the six-yard box and Grimaldo's first time shot took a slight deflection off Cologne defender Julian Chabot and went through the legs of keeper Marvin Schwabe.

Leverkusen easily saw out the rest of the game and, with 10 matches left, they will now be expected to go from "Neverkusen" to taking the crown away from Bayern, winners of the last 11 Bundesliga titles, despite their players urging caution for now.

Cologne's defeat leaves them in 16th - the relegation playoff spot - on 17 points, eight adrift of the safety zone.

IMAGE: FC Barcelona's Lamine Yamal challenges Athletic Bilbao's Imanol Garcia de Albeniz during their LaLiga match at San Mames, Bilbao, Spain, on Sunday. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

Barcelona and Athletic share spoils in goalless draw

Champions Barcelona were left frustrated as they squandered a chance to close the gap with La Liga leaders Real Madrid after being held to a lacklustre 0-0 draw at Athletic Club on Sunday.

With Real dropping points on Saturday following a 2-2 draw at Valencia, Barca were hoping to secure the win that would help them to close the gap with the pace setters and also enable them to leapfrog Girona into second place in the standings.

Instead, Sunday's stalemate meant they still trail Real by eight points and remain one-point adrift of surprise package Girona, who are on 59 after suffering a 1-0 loss at Mallorca earlier in the day.

Barca suffered two injury blows, with midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Pedri forced out in the first-half.

De Jong was carted off the field in the 26th minute after he landed awkwardly on his right foot following a challenge with a rival player.

Moments before halftime, Pedri left the pitch in tears after suffering what looked like a right leg injury.

It is the ninth leg muscle injury sustained by the 21-year-old midfielder since the end of the 2020-21 season.

Barca's Joao Cancelo came closest to scoring in a tepid first half when his shot from near the halfway line arched over Athletic's goalkeeper but was cleared away by a defender.

The home side who were more aggressive following the interval, with Inaki Williams and Alex Berenguer a constant menace.

But they were frustrated by a solid Barca defence that withstood the late pressure to secure a point against an in-form team who are bidding for a top-four finish.

Athletic, who entered the contest on the back of a 10-match winning streak at home in all competitions, are fifth in the standings with 50 points, five behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

IMAGE: Napoli's Giacomo Raspadori celebrates scoring their second goal with Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa during their match against Juventus at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy, on Sunday. Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

Late Raspadori strike earns Napoli home win over Juve

Substitute Giacomo Raspadori scored an 88th-minute winner as champions Napoli beat visitors Juventus 2-1 in Serie A on Sunday to secure their first back-to-back wins in five months and boost their slim hopes of a late charge into the top four.

Napoli moved up to seventh in the standings on 43 points, three points behind sixth-placed Atalanta, four adrift of AS Roma in fifth and eight behind fourth-placed Bologna.

Juventus remained second with 57 points after 27 games as their cushion over third-placed AC Milan narrowed to a point. They are 12 points off leaders Inter Milan who host Genoa on Monday.

Napoli, who on Wednesday demolished Sassuolo 6-1 to celebrate their first win under new coach Francesco Calzona, won consecutive league games for the first time since they beat Udinese and Lecce in September.

"By winning this match the team gave a signal that it wants to reach important positions," Calzona told a press conference.

"Miracles cannot be achieved in 10 days, it would take time that we don't have. I ask the boys to learn quickly, which they are doing and which I am very happy about even if by nature I am never happy."

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