Reigning champions Atletico Madrid eased to a third consecutive La Liga win with a routine 2-0 victory over Real Sociedad on Tuesday.
Coach Diego Simeone chose to shuffle his pack, making five alterations to the side that overcame Cordoba by the same scoreline on Saturday, but the changes paid instant dividends as the hosts caught Sociedad cold.
Atletico offered the latest demonstration of their set-piece prowess when Mikel Gonzalez headed Koke’s second-minute corner into his own net.
It was 2-0 shortly afterwards as former Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann capitalised on an error from Geronimo Rulli – far from the last uncertain moment on a trying outing for the Argentine goalkeeper.
The gap between second-placed Real Madrid and Atletico is down to two points ahead of the former’s trip to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday, while next week’s all-Madrid UEFA Champions League quarter-final looms on the horizon.
Simeone’s side made a strong start as Arda Turan drilled an early shot against the post on the end of Koke’s deep cross, but Atletico did not have to wait long to open the scoring.
Koke’s delivery caused problems for Sociedad once more as Gonzalez diverted the Spain midfielder’s in-swinging corner into his own goal.
An uphill task for David Moyes’ team became considerably steeper in the 10th minute when Rulli got down to keep out Koke’s dipping strike but could only push the ball to Griezmann, who dispatched a cool finish beyond the prone keeper.
A last-ditch challenge from Gonzalez prevented Griezmann from doubling his tally shortly afterwards and, although Sociedad belatedly settled into the contest, Rulli provided further cause for concern in the 27th minute when he saved unconvincingly from a Jesus Gamez drive.
Another well-planned corner routine in the 39th minute could have brought a third for Atletico but Mario Suarez missed his kick, before Koke almost caught out Rulli in fortuitous circumstances – his arching cross from the right dipping to hit the crossbar.
Suarez thumped over under pressure after Griezmann’s cushioned lay-off as Atletico continued to be the most threatening team after the break.
Sociedad midfielder David Zurutuza went to ground in the area under a challenge from Miranda as the hour approached but the referee was uninterested in his penalty claims.
The hosts pressed forward once more, looking to secure the points, and substitute Raul Jimenez – on in place of Fernando Torres – saw an attempt deflected wide after Rulli clawed a Gamez cross out of his six-yard box.
Home goalkeeper Jan Oblak made sure of his third consecutive clean sheet with a brilliant 88th-minute save, pushing a free-kick from sub Esteban Granero away from the top corner as Sociedad were forced to accept a first defeat in five games.