Atletico Madrid kept pressure on Barcelona at the top of La Liga standings with a hard-fought away win at San Mames against Athletic Bilbao.
Fernando Torres headed home his 10th goal of the season for Rojiblancos and his fourth in as many games in the league to prove his restored scoring form in the most crucial stage of the season for the Madrid-based club.
The Spanish striker headed in late in the uneventful first half of the match which offered few chances on both sides of the pitch. Torres has been provided with an assist from Antoine Griezmann for Atletico’s eight triumph in nine La Liga matches.
Diego Simeone’s men continued to push Barcelona against the wall despite the Catalans sendind a clear message of intent with their comprehensive 8-0 routing at Deportivo La Coruna.
Athletic Bilbao lacked cutting edge against Atletico Madrid in their Thursday’s encounter as their in-form striker Aritz Aduriz was forced to miss the game through injury, thus leaving his team deprived of a focal point upfront.
The game took off to a worrying start for the visiting team as Atletico Madrid’s defensive rock Diego Godin suffered an early injury after only ten minutes of play which forced him off the pitch with Hernandez coming on to replace him.
Hosts tried to take full advantage of the situation and Benat almost made things worse for Atletico Madrid, but his 20-yard free-kick was sent sailing over the crossbar.
Iker Muniain also tried to put pressure on Diego Simeone’s men with a 25-yars drive which was saved by Jan Oblak.
Visitors replied through Fernando Torres, who inflicted a huge blow to Athletic Bilbao’s confidence striking a goal at the perfect moment and closing the first part of the game on a high.
Atletico Madrid intended to close the deal in the early stages of the second term as Stefan Savic’s header went close from Koke’s corner, but Benat made an instant response on the other side of the pitch when he stung Oblak’s palms with a swaying drive from outside of the area.
The same player provided a great ball inside the box for Raul Garcia later on as the hosts tried to level the score with Inaki Williams coming on to pile pressure upfront, but tightly-packed visitors remained undeterred in their bid to win the game.
Antoine Griezmann came closest to scoring when he broke clean through towards the goal, but Eneko Boveda denied him his 21st goals of the season with a timely intervention.
The closing stages of the game provided two clear-cut chances for Carrasco, who came close to scoring at both occasions but his efforts were denied by Athletic goalkeeper and by his own poor judgment having sent the ball sent wide over the goal, respectively.
Far from being an attractive fixture, the game between Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid was a nervy affair between two teams who did their best to breach each other’s defences and claim three vital points from tonight’s game.
Without anything in their bag, the Basque side were left trailing six points behind the fourth-placed Villarreal in the Champions League qualification spot. Bilbao are in for a tough battle in the remaining weeks in their efforts to try and catch on with the Yellow Submarine.
On the other side, Atletico Madrid have kept another clean sheet and continued with their dominant La Liga performances which allowed them to remain hot on the trail of Barcelona in the title run-in.
ATHLETIC BILBAO: Iraizoz 6.5 – de Marcos 6, Boveda 6.5, Etxeita 6 (Iturraspe 6), Balenziaga 6.5 – San Jose 6, Benat 7 – Suaseta 6.5 (Lekue Martinez 6), Garcia 6.5, Muniain 7 (Williams 6.5) – Viguera 6.
Unused subs: Elusondo, Gurpegi, Herrerin, Rico.
ATLETICO MADRID: Oblak 7.5 – Juanfran 7, Savic 7.5, Godin 6 (Hernandez 6.5), Filipe Luis 7 – Teye Partey 6.5 (Carrasco 7), Fernandez 6.5, Koke 7, Niguez 7.5 – Torres 8, Griezmann 7.
Unused subs: Correa, Gamez, Kranevitter, Moya, Vietto.
REFEREE: Juan Martinez Munuera
Other results this evening
Deportivo La Coruna 0-8 Barcelona
Gijon 1-1 Sevilla
Malaga 0-1 Rayo Vallecano
Valencia 4-0 Eibar