Atlético title pursuit stalled by late Madrid equalizer

Sports

MADRID (AP) — With another stumble at home, Atlético Madrid again missed a chance to strengthen its lead at the top of the league as the club attempts to end its title drought in Spain.

Atlético conceded late to Real Madrid in a 1-1 draw in the derby on Sunday, extending its winless streak at home and increasing the risk of being caught in its pursuit of a first Spanish league title since 2014.

Karim Benzema scored in the 88th minute after Luis Suárez’s early goal for Atlético at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Atlético was coming off a 2-0 loss to Levante in its last home match.

The hosts were in control during most of the game on Sunday and squandered several chances to add to its early lead, paying the price in the end.

The draw kept Diego Simeone’s team five points in front of Madrid and only three points ahead of second-place Barcelona, which won 2-0 at Osasuna on Saturday. Atlético has a game in hand over both Madrid and Barcelona.

“We never thought it was going to be easy,” Simeone said. “People said we were going to win by 20 points but I don’t know what they were thinking. It will be very difficult for all teams until the end.”

Atlético is trying to end a streak of league titles won by either Barcelona or Madrid since 2014. It hasn’t beaten Madrid in 10 straight league matches — since 2016 — with five losses and five draws. It lost 2-0 at Madrid in the teams’ previous encounter last year.

Madrid, coming off a disappointing home draw against Real Sociedad, had won three in a row against Atlético in all competitions.

“We are going to keep fighting until the end,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “There are a lot of games left and things can change quickly.”

The match was played without fans but there was a large gathering of Atlético supporters outside the stadium before and during the game. Their chants and goal celebration after Suárez scored could be heard inside the venue.

They were loudly heard near the end of the match when Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak made two superb close-range saves off consecutive attempts by Benzema, who was back in the Madrid squad after an injury layoff. Oblak also stopped the striker’s free kick attempt a few moments later.

He couldn’t stop Benzema in the final minutes, though, as the striker found the net from near the penalty spot after a pass by Casemiro in one of the few mistakes by the Atlético defense during the entire match.

“When you miss your chances to add to your lead, sometimes 1-0 is not enough,” Simeone said. “We had our chances to seal the victory but couldn’t capitalize on them and they were able to equalize.”

Atlético started the game pressing forward and opened the scoring in a breakaway in the 15th. Suárez found the far corner with the outside of his right foot while facing Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois inside the area after a pass from Marcos Llorente.

Suárez, Atlético’s leading scorer with 17 goals, hadn’t found the net in five games in all competitions. The 34-year-old Uruguay striker who joined from Barcelona this season moved within two goals of Messi, the league’s scoring leader this season.

Madrid tried to gain control in the second half but it was Atlético that kept threatening the most in counterattacks, squandering several good scoring chances.

Madrid remained without the injured captain Sergio Ramos, while Atlético had the return of defender Kieran Trippier after he completed a 10-game ban for breaking betting rules.

Madrid had won four away matches in a row in all competitions, including 1-0 at Atalanta in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League. Atlético lost 1-0 to Chelsea in its first leg in the European competition.

Atlético hadn’t scored in the last three league derbies against Madrid, since Antoine Griezmann’s goal in early 2019. It has never gone four matches without a goal against its rival.

Madrid has never lost in four visits to Atlético’s Metropolitano stadium in the league. It is the only league team unbeaten there.

The draw kept Simeone from breaking Luis Aragonés’ club record of 308 wins as a coach.

OTHER RESULTS

Fifth-place Real Sociedad continued its pursuit of fourth-place Sevilla with a 1-0 home win over Levante with a goal by Mikel Merino in the 10th.

Earlier, Fran Beltrán scored a 76th-minute winner as Celta Vigo beat last-place Huesca 4-3 after twice squandering the lead. Celta moved to eighth place, while Huesca stayed four points from safety.

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Please follow and like us: