Fernando Torres finally scored his long-awaited 100th Atletico Madrid goal as they came from behind to defeat Eibar 3-1 at Vicente Calderon.
Substitute Torres had been one strike away from the milestone ever since netting against Saturday’s opponents in the reverse fixture back in September, but his search for the elusive century goal finally came to an end with a finish in second-half stoppage time.
That capped a solid comeback win for Diego Simeone’s title chasers, who piled the pressure back on leaders Barcelona at the top of the table and ended their four-match winless run in all competitions.
Suspensions for Diego Godin, Juanfran and Filipe Luis, and an injury to Stefan Savic, had forced Simeone to name a makeshift defence, with midfielder Saul Niguez deployed in an unfamiliar centre-back role.
A slip from the 21-year-old enabled Keko to open the scoring early in the second half for Eibar, but Jose Maria Gimenez headed in at the near post in the 56th minute to restore parity.
Saul then made up for his earlier error by nodding Atletico ahead, but the scoring was completed by Torres with 91 minutes on the clock.
The club icon replaced Yannick Ferreira Carrasco with 76 minutes played and sparked scenes of jubilation when he ended his personal drought and shifted the Liga focus firmly back towards Barca, who travel to Levante on Sunday.
Angel Correa looked sharp for the hosts on his return from suspension and, in the 15th minute, a penetrating run saw him breeze beyond two players and into the box, where he went down under a challenge from Ander Capa that the referee deemed to be legal.
Thomas Partey was booked for a high challenge as the match became increasingly physical and dogged, but Atletico continued to look the more threatening.
Antoine Griezmann blazed a shot over from the left-hand side of the box after a great cross-field pass from Jesus Gamez after 19 minutes.
Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side were blunted by the absence of their top-scorer Borja Baston – ineligible against his parent club as part of his loan deal – and they struggled to create chances, despite a decent amount of possession.
Correa and Jota missed chances at either end as neither goalkeeper was forced into a save before half-time, but, within a minute of the restart, the deadlock was broken.
A slip from Saul was pounced upon by Sergi Enrich, who squared for Keko to fire into the top corner.
Disappointed with his team’s response, Simeone had Oliver Torres and Luciano Vietto ready to come on from the bench.
However, before the duo could be introduced, a series of Atletico corners culminated with Gimenez heading in the equaliser in the 56th minute.
Vietto and Oliver were brought on soon afterwards, but it was another defender who added to Atletico’s tally.
Saul atoned for his earlier error by rising highest to steer Koke’s corner beyond Asier Riesgo, who was unable to keep the shot out despite getting a hand behind it.
Torres was introduced after 76 minutes in place of Ferreira Carrasco.
And after Vietto had seen a goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision, the striker steered home from the Argentine’s cross to complete the scoring and celebrate his personal landmark.
Key Opta stats:
Eibar have never beaten Atletico Madrid in the top division.
Atletico v Eibar is, along with Granada v Villarreal, the only game in La Liga this season without a shot on target in the first half.
The home side are yet to score in the first half at Vicente Calderon in 2016 in La Liga.
Atletico have conceded less than 11 goals after 23 La Liga games only once before (1990-91). That season they finished second.
Two of Keko’s three goals in La Liga this season have been assisted by Sergi Enrich.
Atletico have scored five headers in this La Liga season. Last season after 23 games they had scored 20.
Koke has had a hand in five of Atletico’s last six league goals (a goal and four assists).
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