Atletico Madrid Stumble Again To Keep La Liga Title Race Alive

Atletico Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente reacts to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

 

Atletico Madrid gave renewed hope to their La Liga title rivals on Saturday by losing 2-0 at home to Levante and missing the chance to extend their six-point lead at the top of the table. 

The defeat is only Atletico’s second in the league this season and their first at the Wanda Metropolitano in any competition since Barcelona beat them there in December 2019.

It means what could have been a commanding 11-point advantage at the top of the table is now just six, with Real Madrid, the closest challengers, up against Real Valladolid later on Saturday.

Due to rearranged fixtures, Atletico were facing Levante for the second time in four days, having already dropped two points against them in an away 1-1 draw on Wednesday.

 

Atletico Madrid’s players react to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

And Levante proved that was no fluke by going one better, their impressive victory inflicting another setback on Diego Simeone’s side, who will have to rediscover their rhythm for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg at home to Chelsea.

Luis Suarez will be up against English opposition again in midweek and the Uruguayan went closest to finding an equaliser, his bending free-kick in the second half coming back off the post.

Suarez has now gone three league games without scoring for the first time this season.

Jose Luis Morales had already put Levante in front after half an hour and while Atletico huffed and puffed for most of the second half, they could not find a way through.

With goalkeeper Jan Oblak up for a corner in injury-time, Jorge de Frutos made it two by launching into an open net.

 

Levante players celebrate their second goal scored by Levante’s Spanish forward Jorge de Frutos (4R) during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

Atletico have now gone seven league games without a clean sheet, their longest run since Simeone became coach in 2011.

Another concern for Simeone will the fitness of central defender Jose Gimenez, who had to go off injured in the second half, making him a doubt to face Chelsea in midweek.

They were given an early warning by Levante when one long pass from Ruben Rochina was all it took to send Morales in on goal but despite a superb first touch, the striker dribbled his finish wide.

But Morales found the net after half an hour, this time with a bit of luck to help him. Geoffrey Kongodbia dangled a weak leg into a challenge on the edge of the area and the ball fell to Morales to finish after a deflection from Felipe.

Gimenez waved to the bench to come off but for 20 minutes, Atletico launched an assault on Levante’s goal.

 

Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez reacts to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

Suarez’s curling free-kick hit the post while Joao Felix twice failed to convert from crosses fizzed in from the right.

Correa thought he had an equaliser, poking in after a scramble in the box, but the goal was ruled out for a dubious foul by Suarez as he challenged for a ball in the air.

The chances dried up and Atletico grew desperate. Oblak ventured up for a last-gasp corner but the ball was headed away and De Frutos capitalised to confirm victory.

 

 

Levante players celebrate their second goal scored by Levante’s Spanish forward Jorge de Frutos during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

 

Real Madrid Gathering Momentum After Levante Victory

Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior (C) celebrates his goal with teammates during the Spanish League football match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on October 4, 2020. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP).

 

Real Madrid moved to the top of La Liga on Sunday as Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema both scored in a 2-0 win over Levante.

Vinicius, who had proved decisive in Madrid’s win over Real Valladolid on Wednesday, looked set to see off Levante as well, before Benzema notched his first goal of the season late on.

Madrid have now recorded three clean sheets from their four opening games, although a draw away at Real Sociedad has given an early advantage to Barcelona, who play away at Sevilla later on Sunday.

“We had to suffer,” said Zinedine Zidane. “We had chances in the second half to kill the game and that would have made it different. We suffered a lot because they also had chances.”

Madrid and Barca had earlier played out the first ever women’s Clasico after Madrid finally launched their female team this season. Yet Barcelona showed their superiority in a 4-0 rout.

But the men’s team have become something of a defensive juggernaut under Zidane after their solidity and resilience formed the basis of their successful title bid last term.

They have 10 points from 12 available, after three consecutive wins.

Levante, meanwhile, have managed only one victory from first four matches and this defeat means they drop into the relegation places.

Vinicius gave Madrid the lead after 16 minutes when Levante failed to clear a corner and the Brazilian calmly curled in for his second goal in two games.

He could have made it two but overhit a pass intended for Benzema and then Levante hit the crossbar, Nikola Vuckevic at the back post almost capitalising on some hesitation from Thibaut Courtois.

Levante found it difficult to cope with Madrid’s pressing and Benzema and Vinicius both should scored when twice they won the ball back in dangerous positions.

Sergio Ramos also had a headed goal ruled out for offside but Levante went close to a late equaliser as Clerc and Enis Bardhi both tested Courtois.

But Benzema tore away on the break in injury-time and finished to complete a convincing win.

AFP

Benzema Hands Madrid Win Against Levante

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF against Levante UD at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on September 14, 2019.
CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP

 

Karim Benzema scored twice on Saturday in an outstanding performance for Real Madrid against Levante, although his side was left hanging on for a 3-2 win on the day Eden Hazard made his La Liga debut.

The French striker’s goals came just six minutes apart in the first half on a wet afternoon at the Santiago Bernabeu, before Casemiro put Real 3-0 up.

However, Levante, who had won their previous two outings, made a fight of it in the second half as they pulled goals back through Borja Mayoral and Gonzalo Melero.

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While the manner of their victory was not as convincing as coach Zinedine Zidane might have wished, it was a welcome return to winning ways for Real after they had drawn their previous two games.

Hazard also came off the bench for the final half-hour to make his first appearance in La Liga after a thigh injury had interrupted the start of his Real career following his 100 million-euro ($110 million) move from Chelsea.

The Belgian could now start for Real when they go to Paris Saint-Germain for their opening Champions League game on Wednesday.

Gareth Bale will also be available for that match after suspension kept him out here, but Sergio Ramos will be unable to play against PSG because of a European ban.

Zidane was also without the injured Luka Modric here. However, as well as Hazard, fellow summer signing Eder Militao came off the bench in the second half and the former Porto defender could start in Paris in place of Ramos.

Barcelona Host Valencia

Real would have won by a greater margin here had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Aitor Fernandez, who produced a stunning one-handed stop to keep out a Benzema shot from the edge of the area midway through the first half.

However, the hosts went ahead shortly after that when Dani Carvajal held up a cross from the right for Benzema to bullet home a header from the edge of the six-yard area.

The Frenchman struck again in the 31st minute, with James Rodriguez pouncing when Sergio Postigo headed the ball down into his path and teeing up Benzema to score his fourth of the campaign.

Benzema was also involved in the build-up to the third goal five minutes before the interval, which concluded with Vinicius Junior squaring for Casemiro to apply the finish.

Levante pulled one back in the 49th minute as Carlos Clerc crossed from the left to the near post where Mayoral — on loan from Real — converted.

Benzema then curled a shot against the post, while Vinicius had a goal disallowed for offside and Hazard tested Fernandez, but it was Levante who scored again.

This time substitute Melero proved too strong for Carvajal at the far post as he headed in a marvellous cross by Jose Campana, yet Madrid held out.

Leaders Atletico Madrid will seek their fourth win in as many La Liga games when they play later at Real Sociedad in the first game at the Basque club’s newly refurbished stadium.

Barcelona are also in action at home to Valencia, who this week sacked coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, replacing him with the former Real Madrid assistant coach Albert Celades.

AFP

Griezmann Booed As Levante Hold Atletico

Griezmann Booed As Levante Hold Atletico
Griezmann reacts during the match between Levante and Atletico Madrid at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia on May 18, 2019. JOSE JORDAN / AFP

 

Antoine Griezmann was jeered during his last game for Atletico Madrid and Rodrigo might have scored his final goal for the club as they came from behind to draw 2-2 against Levante in La Liga on Saturday. 

Griezmann received whistles at the City of Valencia Stadium from the visiting fans, who were also heard chanting “out, out, out” before goals from Sergio Camello and Rodrigo ensured Atletico at least ended the season with a draw.

“We had to highlight the work of the gladiators who are leaving,” Simeone said afterwards.

“Their greatest legacy is not the titles won, it is their commitment and respect. I love them very much.”

Simeone has dismissed fears of a mass exodus, despite both Diego Godin and Griezmann already announcing their departures, with the likes of Rodrigo, Juanfran and Filipe Luis all expected to follow.

If this was to be their farewell outing for Atletico, it was an underwhelming finale as Levante, who only secured safety from relegation last weekend, claimed a deserved point.

They might have been disappointed not to take all three after leading 2-0 at half-time thanks to goals from Erick Cabaco and Roger Marti before then playing against 10 men for the best part of 40 minutes after Angel Correa was sent off.

“We could have won 3-0, but we relaxed.” said Levante coach Paco Lopez.

Atletico fought back, Rodrigo firing into the top corner before 18-year-old substitute Camello scored his first goal for the club, finishing at the back post.

Simeone’s side finish second again with 76 points, three fewer than last season. They come in above Real Madrid for a second consecutive year but will end up 13 points behind Barcelona, if the Catalans win away at Eibar on Sunday.

Griezmann was unable to add to his tally of 133 goals in 257 games across all competitions in what became a bitter end to his five successful seasons for the club.

Godin was given a rousing goodbye ceremony at the Wanda Metropolitano last weekend but the timing of Griezmann’s announcement, perhaps deliberately, meant he avoided a last meeting with the Atleti fans.

But those that made the trip to Valencia were determined to make their displeasure known and it was noticeable that Griezmann made a swift exit after the final whistle.

Camello, born in Madrid and a product of Atletico’s academy, delivered a more positive message for the future and a timely reminder of Atletico’s ability to endure in recent years, despite the departures of their biggest stars.

“Football has no age limits,” Simeone added. “We will never stop making use of everything we can to ensure the club keeps growing.”

Levante took the lead through a brilliant opener from Cabaco, who flicked in with the back of his heel after a header back from Ruben Vezo.

Roger doubled the advantage shortly before half-time, intercepting a loose pass from Thomas Partey before skipping over Rodrigo and firing past Antonio Adan, who was standing in for the injured Jan Oblak.

Atletico’s task became more difficult when Correa was sent off for a petulant kick on Chema but Rodrigo gave them hope with a stunning strike into the top corner, before Koke’s shot fell kindly for Camello at the back post.

AFP

Messi Fires Barca To Eighth La Liga Title In 11 Years

Messi Fires Barcelona To 26th Spanish La Liga Title
Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi shoots to score a goal during the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 27, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi clinched an eighth La Liga title for Barcelona in 11 seasons on Saturday as he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at home to Levante.

The Argentine star struck his league-leading 34th goal of the campaign after coming off the bench for the second half to help Barca wrap up the title with three games remaining.

Barca hold a nine-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, but the Catalans cannot be overtaken thanks to their superior head-to-head record.

It is Barca’s 26th league title and nudges them closer to Real Madrid’s record of 33 in Spain.

“To win the title with a distance and gap is difficult with the rivals we have. We’ve done it two years in a row,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde told Movistar.

“We’re happy and to see people enjoying it makes us proud. But we still have challenges ahead.”

Valverde initially left Messi on the bench with Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool in mind, but he replaced Philippe Coutinho at the break at the Camp Nou.

Coutinho and Luis Suarez pressed Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez into action early on, the Brazilian coming closest to breaking the deadlock when his free-kick rattled the crossbar shortly before half-time.

He was sacrificed for Messi though, and it proved an inspired decision as the Argentine swept in the winner on 62 minutes following a frantic scramble inside the Levante area.

The visitors, not yet safe from the threat of relegation, responded and put Barca on the defensive but were denied a last-gasp equaliser when the ball hit the post and rolled into the grateful arms of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

“In the end he scored the goal. He always scores goals everywhere,” Valverde said of Messi, who celebrated winning his 10th league crown.

Atletico delay the party

Atletico had delayed Barca’s title party earlier in the day as they scraped past strugglers Real Valladolid 1-0 after surviving late VAR penalty drama.

Joaquin Fernandez’s own goal put Atletico ahead midway through the second half, but they had to endure a nervy final few minutes in which Jan Oblak had to be at his best and they survived a late VAR check over what looked like a clear Santiago Arias handball in the area.

“It’s controversial, a ball that hits the hand and the referee’s decision is to see if it’s voluntary or not,” said Saul Niguez, whose cross led to their fortunate winner.

Diego Simeone’s side are nine points ahead of local rivals and reigning European champions Real Madrid, who travel to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday amid increasing speculation they will respond to a disappointing season by swooping for Eden Hazard and Neymar.

“It’s what we deserve, no more, no less. We’ve come so far,” added Saul.

“There were moments when we wanted to be first and others that I would say no, that’s what we deserve.”

Valladolid meanwhile stay 17th, just one point and a place away from the relegation zone after a match they will feel they were unlucky to lose.

Earlier on Saturday, Athletic Bilbao and Alaves did their chances of European football next season no favours with a 1-1 draw in the Basque Country.

Seventh-placed Bilbao are five points away from the Champions league places — with Alaves a further three points back — and could also see Valencia and Sevilla take the Europa league further away from them when they take on Eibar and Girona.

AFP

Messi On Bench As Barca Edge Closer To Spanish Title

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi sits on the bench during the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 27, 2019.
LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi was named among the substitutes for Saturday’s game at home to Levante with Barcelona needing a win to secure an eighth Spanish league title in 11 seasons.

Coach Ernesto Valverde opted for a front three of Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho as Messi was rested ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, the first leg against Liverpool.

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Messi is the leading scorer in La Liga this season with 33 goals in 31 appearances.

Defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets was also left on the bench as Barca looked to wrap up the title with three matches to spare.

AFP

Coutinho Penalty Gives Barca Hope Despite Cup Defeat To Levante

Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho scores from the penalty spot on Thursday. Photo: REUTERS/Heino Kalis

 

Philippe Coutinho scored a crucial away goal but Barcelona have work to do to avoid a surprise exit from the Copa del Rey after losing 2-1 to Levante on Thursday in the first leg of the last 16. 

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Marc Andre ter Stegen were among several key players rested at the City of Valencia Stadium, where Levante took advantage as Erick Cabaco and Borja Mayoral gave them a two-goal cushion.

Coutinho, however, making his first start in almost a month, converted an 85th-minute penalty to leave Barca in touch heading into next week’s second leg at the Camp Nou.

After missing much of November through injury, Coutinho has struggled to regain his place in Ernesto Valverde’s preferred starting line-up but 90 minutes, and a goal, will have done his confidence no harm.

“When (Ousmane) Dembele didn’t play, everyone asked about him, now Coutinho doesn’t play, it’s the reverse,” Valverde said afterwards. “When you don’t play and you aren’t happy, you have to fight to change things.”

Valverde was blamed last season for Barca’s shock Champions Leaue exit, the theory being that he failed to rest key players in the Copa del Rey and La Liga, both of which they won.

He seems keener to adjust this term as a much-changed line-up included a debut for central defender Jeison Murillo, a January loan signing from Valencia, as well as youngsters like Chumi Brandariz, Juan Miranda and Carles Alena.

This was a difficult introduction, however, with Murillo beaten for Levante’s second goal while Miranda was replaced at half-time and Chumi followed 13 minutes later.

The front three were more established, as Ousmane Dembele, Malcom and Coutinho aimed to make up for the absence of a recognised striker.

Instead, Levante took the lead after just 185 seconds as Ruben Rochina’s in-swinging cross from the left met the head of Cabaco, who climbed above Sergio Busquets and headed in.

Barca were struggling to cope with the aggression of their opponents and in the 18th minute, they were two down. Emmanuel Boateng’s reverse pass set Borja free, who nipped between Murillo and Chumi.

Murillo tried to make the block but Borja’s shot beat both him and Jasper Cillessen, before nestling in the far corner.

Levante could have made it three but Borja fired wide and Jose Luis Morales, who only had Cillessen to beat, scooped his finish over the bar.

Valverde had turned to his bench as Sergi Roberto and Clement Lenglet came on for Miranda and Chumi while Denis Suarez, linked with a move away from the club this month, was given 23 minutes to instigate a comeback.

He did the job, a weaving run inside from the right drawing a clumsy challenge from Coke. Coutinho made no mistake.

Earlier, Sevilla put one foot in the quarter-finals after winning 3-1 away to Athletic Bilbao.

Mikel San Jose pulled Bilbao level at San Mames after Nolito’s opener but second-half goals from Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder mean Sevilla will be strong favourites to go through.

AFP

Messi Hat-Trick Restores Barcelona’s La Liga Lead

Levante’s Spanish midfielder Ruben Rochina (L) vies with Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi during the Spanish League football match between Levante and Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia on December 16, 2018. JOSE JORDAN / AFP

 

Lionel Messi continued his sublime form by netting his 31st La Liga hat-trick as Barcelona thrashed Levante 5-0 on Sunday to regain their three-point lead at the top of the table.

The 31-year-old Argentinian arrived in Valencia having scored two free-kicks in last weekend’s derby thumping of Espanyol. He took his goals tally for the season to 20 after a virtuoso display, while also teeing up Luis Suarez’s 35th-minute opener and Gerard Pique’s late fifth.

Barca were under pressure after Atletico Madrid and second-placed Sevilla had both moved level on points with the Catalan giants.

But after resting his key stars for their final Champions League group stage match against Tottenham in midweek, coach Ernesto Valverde saw his refreshed side cruise to a third straight league win without conceding a goal.

“At the beginning it was difficult, they squeezed us and had a chance that hit the woodwork,” said Valverde.

Levante started the game brightly and visiting goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was forced into an early save by Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng.

But Barca did not take long to start moving through the gears, with Messi curling wide from long range before testing Oier Olazabal in the Levante goal with a free-kick.

Just seconds after Boateng hammered a left-footed strike against the crossbar, the reigning Spanish champions broke the deadlock as Messi jinked through a mesmerised home defence and picked out Suarez who volleyed home.

But Levante, who had ended Barcelona’s dreams of going through last season’s La Liga campaign unbeaten with a remarkable 5-4 victory in the penultimate game, came close to a quick response as Jose Luis Morales fired over.

The match was all but ended as a contest when Messi bore down on goal two minutes before half-time and drilled low into the net.

“I’m happy to have won here because last year we came and they put five goals past us having gone the whole season unbeaten, so we knew about the danger of Levante and it was a match we had marked out,” added Valverde.

He wasted little time after the restart to add his second in the 47th minute, sweeping home Jordi Alba’s clever cutback, before completing his treble with a simple tap-in from Arturo Vidal’s square pass on the hour mark.

Messi has scored five goals in two league games since finishing only fifth in the voting for the Ballon d’Or earlier this month.

A bad evening for Levante worsened with 14 minutes to play, as left-back Erick Cabaco was sent off for a reckless lunge on Ousmane Dembele.

Centre-back Pique added further gloss to the scoreline in the 88th minute, rampaging forward to collect Messi’s pass, before keeping his cool and rolling the ball home.

Sevilla keep up the pace 

Sevilla reclaimed second place earlier on Sunday as second-half strikes from Ever Banega and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over Girona.

Pablo Machin’s side are unbeaten in seven league games since a 4-2 loss at Barca in October.

The hosts had to wait until the 55th minute to break the deadlock when striker Andre Silva was tripped in the area by Girona defender Juanpe.

Argentinian Banega stepped up to send visiting goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz the wrong way from the penalty spot.

The points were wrapped up only nine minutes later, as Wissam Ben Yedder cut the ball back for the onrushing Sarabia to slide home his 14th goal of the season in all competitions.

“In the first half they (Girona) were very good,” said Machin. “They were very organised and had good chances when (Sevilla goalkeeper) Tomas (Vaclik) was splendid.

“In the second half, we were the better team.”

Elsewhere, Villarreal were plunged further into crisis as Samuele Longo’s 93rd-minute strike saw them held to a 2-2 draw at bottom club Huesca.

Villarreal, who replaced Javier Calleja with Luis Garcia Plaza as coach in midweek, are only one point and one place above the relegation zone.

Real Betis eased to a 3-1 win at Espanyol to move into fifth place after a third successive league victory.

Espanyol, who led the table earlier in the season, have lost five straight matches to slip into the bottom half.

jc

I Believe In Real Madrid More Than Ever – Lopetegui

Real Madrid’s Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui gives instructions to his players during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF against Levante UD at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on October 20, 2018. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Julen Lopetegui insists he believes in his struggling Real Madrid team more than ever and remains calm about his future despite their 2-1 loss at home to Levante on Saturday.

Madrid made it five games without a victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, where they also set an unwanted record for the longest goal-drought in the club’s history.

By the time Marcelo had finally found the net in the second half, Lopetegui’s team had gone 481 minutes without a goal, passing the 464-minute dry spell Madrid endured in 1985.

Levante held on after scoring twice in the opening 13 minutes, as Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti capitalised on mistakes by Raphael Varane. Roger scored from the penalty spot after Varane had handballed.

Asked about his future, Lopetegui said: “This is the last thing I am thinking about. I am only thinking about lifting the players quickly.

“We have a very important game in the Champions League in three days.”

Madrid host Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday, looking to atone for a shock 1-0 defeat by CSKA Moscow last time out. They then face Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

“I feel more encouraged than ever, I believe more than ever in this team,” Lopetegui said.

“For the effort they have made and for how they have reacted to their misfortune. The team has left everything on the pitch and this is the way to turn the corner, there is no other way.”

Lopetegui admitted he had witnessed a “sad changing room” after the match and his team were certainly not blessed with luck.

They hit the woodwork three times and suffered a two-goal swing as a result of the Video Assistant Referee. Roger’s penalty had been upgraded from a free-kick before Marco Asensio headed in at the end, only to have his goal ruled out for offside.

“It is clear that it is not deserved,” Lopetegui added. “But football is won by goals, not merit. We have done everything we think we have to do.”

Defensive mistakes, however, could have allowed Levante to add to their early double while a lack of composure in front of goal was just as much to blame as a misfortune.

Levante, meanwhile, continue their upward momentum under coach Paco Lopez, who took charge in March and steered them to survival with eight wins from 11 games.

They now sit seventh in La Liga, just a point behind Madrid in fifth.

“In the team-talk, I told the guys that talent has limits, but faith and conviction do not,” Lopez said.

“This team believes in what they are doing and I’m super proud of them.”

Madrid’s Lopetegui Under Pressure Over Loss To Levante

Real Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Daniel Ceballos (L) vies with Levante’s Spanish midfielder Jose Campana during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF against Levante UD at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on October 20, 2018. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Real Madrid failed to ease the pressure on their coach Julen Lopetegui and instead set the record for the longest goal-drought in the club’s history during a surprise 2-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday. 

The defeat means Madrid have now gone five games without a victory as Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti’s penalty put Levante two up, before Marcelo pulled one back in the second half.

AFP

Torres, Griezmann On Target As Atletico Thrash Levante

Torres, Griezmann On Target As Atletico Thrash Levante
Atletico Madrid’s Spanish forward Fernando Torres (L) shoots to score a goal during the football match against Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on April 15, 2018. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Fernando Torres marked the announcement of his Atletico Madrid departure with a goal after coming off the bench to score in a 3-0 win over Levante on Sunday. 

Six days after confirming he will be leaving his boyhood club at the end of the season, Torres rolled back the years with a volleyed finish the 34-year-old would have been proud of in his prime.

It was also his 100th goal in La Liga.

READ ALSO: Manchester City Crowned Premier League Champions

“Fernando is an icon here,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “Whether he is scoring goals or not, winning titles or not, he has a place in the club that has been earned by respect, hard work and having an identity with the club. That will not change because of one more goal.”

Torres’ grievance this term has been a lack of playing time and he was a substitute again at the Wanda Metropolitano, replacing Antoine Griezmann, who was also on target. Angel Correa opened the scoring in the first half.

A comfortable victory cuts the gap behind leaders Barcelona back to 11 points and restores some momentum for Atletico, with their Europa League semi-final against Arsenal less than a fortnight away.

The result also guarantees Atletico a place in the Champions League for a sixth consecutive season.

“Barcelona’s season is tremendous,” Simeone said. “We will try to get closer to them and if we can’t get closer, we will congratulate them.”

This was something of a free hit for Levante, who stay 17th, five points clear of the relegation zone.

Simeone’s side now face Real Sociedad on Thursday and Real Betis on Sunday before the first leg at Emirates Stadium but they arrived here with only two wins from their last five matches.

– Long farewell –

Torres enjoyed the biggest cheer of the afternoon and followed his brilliant finish by blowing the crowd a kiss and waving both hands. It promises to be a long farewell.

The Spaniard is unlikely to face Arsenal but Griezmann almost certainly will and his goal was his 19th in La Liga this season, coming without Diego Costa, who is still nursing a thigh strain.

Atletico shaded the first half without creating too many clear-cut chances. But the visitors’ resistance was broken in the 33rd minute when Vitolo weaved inside to the edge of the penalty area and slipped the ball left to Correa.

Correa surprised the cluster of shuffling defenders by cutting back onto his right foot before using the space to guide the ball into the corner.

Griezmann was convinced he should have had a penalty before half-time when he ended a one-on-one by toppling over the hand of goalkeeper Oier Olazabal. The touch, however, was not only faint, but engineered by Griezmann’s dragging right foot, and the Frenchman was booked for diving.

Complaints turned to celebrations after the interval, as Sime Vrsaljko volleyed in a cross first time from the right and Griezmann finished first time into the top corner.

That was his last significant contribution, before making way for Torres just before the hour, and Koke was also spared the last 30 minutes, replaced by Gabriel Fernandez.

Simeone’s confidence was clear but Torres had the final say, the veteran sweeping home an instinctive volley from Correa’s cross to wrap up a routine win.

AFP

Levante Sack Coach After 15-Match Winless Run

Spanish La Liga strugglers Levante announced on Sunday they had sacked manager Juan Ramon Lopez Muniz, with the club appointing reserve team coach Paco Lopez as his replacement.

Muniz, who took over in 2016 and returned the club to the top division last year, was dismissed following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Espanyol that left Levante just one point above the relegation zone.

A dreadful run of 15 league matches without a win prompted the club to change and Lopez will assume first-team duties for the rest of the season, starting with next weekend’s trip to Getafe.

File photo