Levante 0-1 Atletico Madrid: Early own goal enough for third straight win

By Sports Desk June 23, 2020

Atletico Madrid took another significant step towards Champions League qualification with a 1-0 victory at Levante.

Diego Simeone's Atleti were sixth in LaLiga just a week ago but have since won three on the bounce without conceding to steal a march on their rivals and go third.

Marcos Llorente - this season's Champions League hero in the last 16 against Liverpool - was the star of the show on Tuesday, providing both style and substance as he had a hand in an early Bruno Gonzalez own goal.

Atleti were dominant throughout but failed to build on that opener - kept at bay by an all-action display from Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez - in a deserved yet ultimately slightly nervy away success.

Swiftly stamping his mark on the match, Llorente had tested Aitor inside 30 seconds and soon forged the breakthrough with a sublime piece of close control.

The midfielder took a powerful 15th-minute pass in his stride as he turned into the area and then squared as Aitor advanced, forcing Ruben Vezo to clumsily turn the ball towards his own goal, although Bruno contributed an unwitting final touch.

Aitor did his utmost to keep the scoring down as he parried shots from Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Partey either side of the goal, while both Diego Costa and Llorente were wasteful from promising positions.

The Levante goalkeeper smartly saved again from Carrasco before the interval, which failed to disrupt the visitors' momentum as only an offside flag denied Thomas a fierce second.

Aitor bailed out Jose Campana after his error presented an opportunity to fellow substitute Joao Felix, who later blazed over when Levante again failed to clear their lines, a miss that maintained the home side's interest in the closing stages despite their failure to test Jan Oblak.


What does it mean? Atleti back on track

After spending big ahead of this season, it was crucial Atletico secured Champions League qualification - regardless of the success or otherwise of their ongoing European campaign. Their status in next season's competition looked in some doubt as the season restarted, but Simeone and his side have enjoyed an excellent week.

Llorente loving new role

Signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder, Llorente is now making his name in an advanced role. The 25-year-old turned in another impressive performance here. Indeed, rather than Joao Felix or Alvaro Morata, it is Llorente who looks best suited to partnering Costa in attack at present.

Forward fails to fire

Supposedly a more natural attacking option, Joao Felix is struggling to follow Llorente in improving as his first Atleti season wears on. After scoring twice against Osasuna, the Portuguese struggled at home to Real Valladolid and then, as a substitute here, failed to impress again. One poor miss stood out after replacing Llorente.

What's next?

Atletico face another side stuck in mid-table with little to play for next: Deportivo Alaves visit the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, Levante are at home again against Real Betis the following day.

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    A 74th-minute goal from Diego Costa saw 10-man Atletico overcome Real Betis 1-0 on Saturday to qualify for the Champions League for an eighth straight season.

    Atletico had only played in Europe's top club competitions eight times in total before qualifying for the 2013-14 Champions League.

    But head coach Simeone is refusing to rest, eager for Atletico to continue growing.

    "I don't stop to analyse what is being done," he told a news conference, via AS.

    "We always seek to improve and grow and the only way is to give the club the possibility with our work on the field that they can manage the tremendous growth of the club in these years.

    "If there was a moment to qualify for the Champions League as it was, it was what happened in the match, because this is us.

    "They hit us and we got up and we always compete and we will continue to compete, having all the energy so that all four legs – fans, players, coach and club – we stay firm.

    "This is Atletico Madrid and I think that in the second half when it seemed that everything was going to suffer, we won."

    Costa's winner came 17 minutes after Atletico were reduced to 10 men when Mario Hermoso was sent off.

    Atletico are on a 16-match unbeaten run ahead of visiting Getafe on Thursday.

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    Messi set up Arturo Vidal's 15th-minute goal on Saturday as Barca moved back within a point of rivals and LaLiga leaders Madrid, who have a game in hand.

    But the superstar attacker played 90 minutes as Barca's busy schedule continued and Setien said afterwards that Messi needed a rest.

    "He probably will get a rest, yes," the Barcelona coach told a news conference.

    "I've mentioned it to him previously and perhaps today if we'd got a couple more goals, as I think we deserved, he probably would have come off to get a little bit of a rest."

    Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez, meanwhile, each played 45 minutes, with the Uruguayan replacing the France international at half-time.

    Setien, who said Griezmann had taken a "knock", feels Barca were tired after a third game in the space of a week.

    "I think it's mostly tired legs. It's less than 72 hours since we played our last game," he said.

    "It was very hot today and the pitch felt a lot bigger towards the end of the match. You could see that, a lot of players were not looking fresh on late in the game and they probably lacked that touch of intensity.

    "We've played many games and it's very draining and we have quite a few players who've played a lot of minutes so we can't blame our football, I blame mostly our tired legs for today's game.

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  • Costa on controversial Atletico winner: It didn't come off my arm Costa on controversial Atletico winner: It didn't come off my arm

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    Atleti secured the win they needed to clinch a top-four finish in LaLiga on Saturday, despite playing over half an hour with 10 men following Mario Hermoso's straight red card for a foul on Loren Moron.

    Costa was sent on as one of a trio of attacking changes just before Hermoso's dismissal and, after Diego Simeone's side absorbed some late pressure, he guided Yannick Carrasco's free-kick into the bottom-right corner to seal the three points.

    Betis defender Marc Bartra played Costa onside but a lengthy VAR check was conducted to see whether the Atleti striker had used his arm in the process of scoring.

    The replays appeared inconclusive and the goal was allowed to stand, unlike first-half efforts for Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata that were chalked off with video assistance.

    "It would be one thing if they called it offside for my goal but it didn't come off my arm. I'm very clear it wasn't [handball] and I'm happy," Costa told Movistar.

    "It was a difficult game after Mario's red card. Our goal was to finish in the top four. Now we have that and we've got two more games we have to try to win to continue our good form.

    "I think it was a good sign that we scored from a set-piece. We were in control. What happened in the second half made it more difficult, but we had a bit of luck and got the win.

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    Referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez maintained his decision to dismiss Hermoso after a trip to the pitchside monitor, but Costa felt a booking would also have been a fair punishment.

    "If they'd given a yellow card for Mario Hermoso then fine. I think it was on the limit and in the end the referee has to make the decision, but I think a yellow or red was fair," he said.

    Guido Rodriguez disagreed with Costa's assessment of the goal, claiming the ball clearly struck the attacker's arm.

    "We saw that when Costa scored it touched his arm, but they didn't make that decision, so that's how it was," the Betis midfielder said.

    "We played with a player more, looking for the goal, but we leave pretty annoyed because we couldn't get it."

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