A fine strike from Saul Niguez gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Las Palmas on Saturday to end their disappointing recent run at the Vicente Calderon.
The Spain international curled in a fine finish from just outside the area on 59 minutes to secure a fifth win and clean sheet in a row in LaLiga against the Canary Islanders.
Diego Simeone’s side, who had won only one of their previous five LaLiga games and had failed to score in their last two league matches at home, looked short on confidence for much of the opening hour and missed good chances to take the lead through Kevin Gameiro and Saul in particular.
Mauricio Lemos rattled the crossbar with a stunning effort from close to the centre-circle to sum up the confident approach from the visitors, who enjoyed close to 70 per cent of the possession in an assured display that belied the fact that they have not won away since August.
Roque Mesa missed a good opportunity only a minute before Saul’s winner, however, and the visitors could not muster a clear chance for an equaliser despite their dominance of the ball in the closing stages.
The defeat leaves Quique Setien’s side 10th, while Atleti climb to fifth in the table and back to within a point of fourth-placed Villarreal, who beat Sporting Gijon earlier in the day.
Atletico fans were chanting ‘Don’t touch the badge’ before kick-off as a protest against a proposed change to the design of the club crest, but they nearly had a 1-0 lead to shout about after 16 minutes when Saul hit the post with an instinctive half-volley from 12 yards.
Antoine Griezmann shot wide under pressure from Pedro Bigas after a good long pass from Koke, but opportunities were in short supply in a pedestrian opening half-hour.
Centre-back Lemos almost broke the deadlock out of nothing for Las Palmas, hitting the top of the crossbar with a spectacular strike from almost 40 yards out, but Gameiro should have scored for the home side when he steered the ball wide of the near post following Koke’s low cross from the right.
Atleti showed signs of improvement after the break, but it took a key save low to his right from Miguel Angel Moya – starting in place of the injured Jan Oblak – to prevent Roque Mesa opening the scoring from a swift counter-attack from the visitors.
Barely a minute later, that miss was punished in style. Griezmann’s shot deflected into the path of Saul, and he bent a fine left-footed finish beyond Javi Varas and into the bottom corner from 20 yards out.
Las Palmas pushed forward in search of a quick response and Michel Macedo blasted over after receiving the ball at the far post, with only Moya to beat.
Atleti seemed content to drop deeper and safeguard their narrow advantage – despite some disapproving cries from the home fans – and the approach proved a frustrating obstacle for a visiting side who have been heavily linked with the shock signing of Paris Saint-Germain outcast Jese Rodriguez this week.
Gameiro was denied a chance for a second Atleti goal by an offside flag, but the result rarely looked in doubt in the closing stages, allowing Simeone to celebrate an important win that keeps their top-four chase firmly alive.
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