BARCELONA, Spain — Atletico Madrid’s 20-game unbeaten streak in the Spanish league ended in a 1-0 loss at Espanyol on Friday.
Forward Sergio Garcia scored from a quick attack to claim the winner in the 88th minute when he used one touch to fire substitute Esteban Granero’s cross just inside the far post.
"You could see it coming, that the side which made the mistake would pay for it," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "Espanyol played a great match. We didn’t make good on our chances, they did, and we were left wanting."
Espanyol’s decisive counterattack was started by substitute Pablo Piatti, who dribbled through Atletico’s midfield in a move that finally succeeded in opening up passing lanes for Granero to reach Garcia in the area.
Atletico remained in second place at six points behind Barcelona before the pacesetter visits fourth-place Real Madrid on Saturday.
Atletico hadn’t lost through all 16 previous rounds, nor the final four matches of the last campaign. Its last loss in the league was on April 25 against Villarreal.
It was also Atletico’s first loss away from home in the league in over a year. It had gone 20 straight away matches without a defeat since falling at Villarreal on Dec. 12, 2016.
Simeone’s side entered the game on a four-match winning streak, but it failed to seriously threaten Espanyol’s net.
"It was a very evenly contested match, and they took advantage of the chance they got while we didn’t," Atletico midfielder Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion said. "But we have to keep going forward."
Atletico heads into La Liga’s winter break awaiting the additions of Diego Costa and Victor "Vitolo" Machin in January when the club’s ban expires on incorporating new players that FIFA imposed for its violation of rules regarding youth players.
"We are happy to get past this period and we are convinced that the arrival of Vitolo and Diego will give us more options," Simeone said.
Espanyol’s first win in four rounds helped it move away from the relegation zone and take pressure off coach Quique Sanchez Flores.
"It is a victory of prestige for this team," Sanchez Flores said. "We really wanted to give our fans this win."
PUTTING YOUR FOOT IN IT
A kick by Real Betis Jordi Amat into the leg of a prone opponent earned him a direct red card and precipitated losing to Athletic Bilbao 2-0.
Betis was left with 10 men in the 34th when Jordi Amat kicked the shin of Aymeric Laporte in the area. Raul Garcia transformed the resulting penalty.
Zouhair Feddal deflected a pass into his own net to give the visitors their second goal with five minutes left.
Athletic Bilbao remained undefeated in six straight matches.