Atletico down Barca; Madrid held

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Barcelona: Atletico Madrid strengthened their status as the early front-runner in the Spanish league title race on Saturday after beating Barcelona and watching Real Madrid fall further behind.

Under coach Diego Simeone, Atletico knew what it was like to beat Barcelona in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, but they had been denied a victory over Lionel Messi’s side in the domestic league in 20 consecutive attempts.

Their first win over Barcelona in the competition since 2010 left them level on points with league leader Real Sociedad before the Basque Country club visit Cadiz for their next match.

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona were left languishing in 10th place at nine points back. Both Atletico and Barcelona have games in hand due to their late start to the season after playing in the Champions League quarterfinals in August.

The long-awaited win came after a Madrid side debilitated by injuries and coronavirus infections dropped points for the second consecutive round when it drew 1-1 at Villarreal.

Two superb touches by Yannick Carrasco proved to be the key to Atletico breaking their decade of frustration against Barca. After going close through Saul Niguez and Marcos Llorente, the game at the Wanda Metropolitano tipped in the hosts’ favour when Correa pounced on a bad pass by Pique and lobbed the ball forward for Carrasco breaking down the left flank. Marc-Andre ter Stegen rushed out to disrupt the counter-attack, but Carrasco used one deft touch to push the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs. His next touch sent the ball from well outside the box into the open net.

Meanwhile, without Sergio Ramos’ leadership and Karim Benzema’s scoring touch, Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid had to hold on for a point at El Estadio de la Ceramica.

Madrid made a promising start when rarely used striker Mariano Diaz did well to head in a cross from Dani Carvajal three minutes after kickoff.

Madrid controlled the rest of the first half, but Unai Emery’s Villarreal improved after the restart.

The equaliser came when Courtois swept Samuel Chukwueze off his feet in the box trying to dispute a ball. Gerard Moreno stepped up to convert the resulting penalty in the 76th.