Madrid moves closer to top in La Liga as Atletico stalls

Levante's Jose Luis Morales, centre, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Levante at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

MADRID -- After Atletico Madrid stumbled in the Spanish league, Real Madrid didn't miss its chance to move closer to the top.

Madrid won 1-0 at Valladolid on Saturday for its fourth consecutive win, while Atletico lost points for the second straight match in a 2-0 home loss against Levante that ended its 11-game unbeaten streak in the league.

The results left second-place Madrid within three points of Atletico, which remains with a game in hand but is starting to feel the heat. Third-place Barcelona can move within six points of Atletico if it beats struggling Cadiz at home on Sunday.

Casemiro scored with a 65th-minute header off a cross by Toni Kroos to give Madrid the win two rounds before it visits Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Madrid has been able to inch closer to the top despite playing without several key players recently because of injuries, including Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard.

None of them could play in Valladolid as Madrid withstood a few threats but was mostly in control against the hosts, which are winless in seven matches in all competitions and sit second-to-last in the 20-team standings.

"It was a great team effort as we have some very important players sidelined," said Casemiro, who had already come close to opening the scoring with two other headers. "We are still fighting for the league title. We know it's difficult but there are still a lot of matches to be played."

More than 1,000 dolls were put on the stands at the Valladolid stadium to promote the fight against children's cancer. Sale proceeds go to a local hospital.


Jose Luis Morales scored in the 30th minute and Jorge de Frutos added another goal in stoppage time at the Metropolitano, handing Atletico its first league loss since December -- and first at home in more than a year.

Diego Simeone's team has won only one of its last four league matches.

"I'm not looking for excuses, we need to find solutions," Simeone said. "It's natural that we will find difficulties along our path. There will be challenges."

It was the second consecutive league match between Atletico and Levante. They drew 1-1 on Wednesday in a game postponed from the second round because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Atletico had won nine of its last 11 league matches and hadn't lost since a 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid in December. It had drawn two of its last three games, with setbacks against Levante and Celta Vigo. Atletico was eliminated by third-division club Cornella in the second round of the Copa del Rey in January.

Atletico was unbeaten at home in the league in 22 matches, since a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in December 2019. It went 23 matches unbeaten at home between 2013 and 2014, when it last won the league.

"We are the same team that made it to the lead, so we should be capable of holding on to it," Atletico defender Mario Hermoso said. "These slumps are normal, we just have to hope that ours will end as soon as possible."

Levante, which recently made it to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey for the first time in 86 years, hadn't won in 14 games at Atletico in the league, with 13 losses and one draw. It had also won at Real Madrid four rounds ago after going winless in its last eight away matches. Levante hadn't won two away matches in a row in the league since 2018.

It moved to eighth with Saturday's win, its first in four matches in all competitions.

Atletico has a tough schedule ahead, hosting Chelsea in the round of 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday and playing Villarreal and Real Madrid in its next two Spanish league matches.

It was the seventh straight game in which Atletico conceded a goal. It had scored in seven consecutive games in all competitions.


Manu Vallejo and Kevin Gameiro scored a goal each in second-half stoppage time as Valencia beat Celta Vigo 2-0 at home.

Elche beat visiting Eibar 1-0 with a first-half goal by Dani Calvo in a match between relegation-threatened teams.

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