Leaders Atletico falter again to leave title race open

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Sevilla's Argentinian defender Marcos Acuna (C) celebrates with Sevilla's French defender Jules Kounde (L) and Sevilla's Brazilian midfielder Fernando Reges after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Sevilla FC and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville on April 4, 2021. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

AFP

Madrid

Atletico Madrid stumbled again in La Liga on Sunday as they were beaten 1-0 by Sevilla, giving Barcelona the chance to move to within a point of the top of the table.

Marcos Acuna headed in the winner for Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with Atletico’s grip on first place loosening even further and their in-form rivals primed to take advantage.

Real Madrid are only three points behind after they beat Eibar on Saturday and Barcelona will reduce their deficit from four points to one if they can win on Monday at home to Real Valladolid.

It means Spain’s title race suddenly appears wide open, two months after Atletico sat 10 points clear of both Barca and Madrid, with a game in hand.

They have managed only four wins in 12 games since then, with defeats to Chelsea costing them their place in the Champions League and regular slips in La Liga potentially squandering their shot at the title.

After a narrow 1-0 win over bottom-club Alaves two weeks ago, Diego Simeone might have hoped the international break would offer his team a chance to refresh and reset.

Instead, they returned to another setback against a determined Sevilla side, who strengthened their own hold on fourth place, even if a push for the top three would seem
beyond them.

Sevilla deserved their victory and it might have been more comfortable had Lucas Ocampos not missed a first-half penalty, Atletico’s Jan Oblak again coming to the rescue, like he did against Alaves.

But Acuna struck with 20 minutes left, heading in a looping Jesus Navas cross, even as Atletico protested against an Ocampos handball that had occurred almost a minute before.

There was a chance for a late equaliser as Luis Suarez did brilliantly to set up Angel Correa but Sevilla’s Bono, the goalkeeper who scored against Real Valladolid a fortnight ago, this time preserved the points with a
smart save.