SPANISH LEAGUE — LA LIGASunday, January 5, 2014
Atlético wins at Málaga, sleeps as leader
BARCELONA, Spain — Atlético Madrid needed a second-half goal from midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resu-rrección to eke out a 1-0 win at Málaga yesterday, becoming the overnight leader of the Spanish league as it resumed following the winter break.
Atlético built a provisional three-point advantage over Barcelona before the defending champion hosts Elche today. Barcelona then visits Atlético in the following round.
“We will have to wait and see if Barcelona wins tomorrow (today) to stay leader, as it is accustomed to doing,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said.
Also, Valencia’s new manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi, debuted with a 2-0 victory at home over crosstown rival Levante. Almería routed visiting Granada 3-0 to climb four points clear of the relegation zone, and Real Betis remained bottom of the table after a drab 0-0 draw at Valladolid.
Atlético dominated possession but was held in check by Málaga’s five-man defence until Simeone sent on forwards Adrián López and Cristian Rodríguez to join Diego Costa and David Villa up front for the final half hour.
Diego Costa failed to add to his league-leading 19 goals, but the striker turned playmaker to unlock the hosts’ stingy defence in the 70th.
Diego Costa slipped the ball to Adrián, whose rebound off goalkeeper Willy Caballero fell for Koke arriving late to rifle through the crowded area and into the back of the net to claim the winner.
Atlético moved eight points clear of third-place Real Madrid before it hosts Celta Vigo tomorrow.
Atlético continued to base its title challenge on Spain’s best defence, which again left its opponent without a clear scoring opportunity. It has conceded a competition-low 11 goals through 18 games.
Pizzi replaced the fired Miroslav Djukic over the two-week league break, and Valencia responded with a convincing win in the city derby against Levante at its Mestalla Stadium.
After Pablo Piatti drilled in a clearance to put Valencia in front three minutes before halftime, forward Sofiane Feghouli dribbled through the defence and chipped the ball home via the crossbar in the 73rd to put the result beyond doubt.
“We are happy, of course, but it is too early to take balance of the team,” Pizzi said. “I’m in favour of processes that take a long time. But yes, it helps that we were able to do what we wanted to do the first time. Now we have to work to improve and correct our mistakes.”
Pizzi will face a tough second test on Tuesday when Valencia hosts Atlético in the King’s Cup.
Almería forward Aleix Vidal led the way past Granada by crossing for Sebastián Dubarbier’s opener and adding a goal of his own after José “Verza” García converted a penalty.
Betis’ draw at Valladolid gave the Seville-based side its second point away from home this season.