Ten-man Atletico Madrid missed out on the chance to replace Barcelona at the top of La Liga as a heavily deflected goal with four minutes to go saw them lose out 1-0 to lowly Malaga.
With Barcelona taking part in – and winning – the Club World Cup final earlier on Sunday, Diego Simeone’s men knew that even a point from their trip to La Rosaleda would be enough to send them into the Christmas break as outright leaders.
But instead, Charles’ late effort took a wicked deflection off Diego Godin and secured just a fourth victory of the campaign for the hosts and their first over Atletico since 2009.
The visitors had been looking to extend their unbeaten run to 16 games, but were outplayed by the home side for long periods and lost Gabi to a red card early in the second half.
Malaga’s performance showed a vast improvement upon their most recent outing which saw them bundled out of the Copa del Rey by second-tier side Mirandes, and eased the pressure on under-fire coach Javi Gracia.
Atletico’s defeat ended a run of nine consecutive victories across all competitions, and means Simeone’s side head into the brief mid-season break on the back of a disappointing performance.
Belying the fact that they were searching for just their second win in nine games, Malaga began confidently, with Charles forcing the first save of the game from Jan Oblak after six minutes and then firing across the face of goal after being picked out by Ignacio Camacho.
Atletico, meanwhile, were struggling to get into their stride and other than an off-target effort from Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, failed to threaten the home goal in the opening quarter.
As a rather fractious and disjointed first half wore on, the visitors gradually found some fluency and, after 35 minutes, finally managed an effort on target as Carrasco tested home goalkeeper Carlos Kameni with a free-kick.
But Malaga produced an instant response, the lively Charles seeing his goalbound effort cleared off the line by Juanfran as Duje Cop prepared to divert it home.
Atletico’s refusal to put the ball out of play in response to Recio going down injured then prompted an extended bout of pushing and shoving that brought the opening period to an unsavoury end.
Simeone’s response to his side’s lacklustre first-half display was to replace Luciano Vetto with Fernando Torres at the start of the second period, but it was Malaga who continued to make light of the 14 league places that separated the two sides at the start of play.
And the visitors found themselves up against it in the 56th minute when a handball from Gabi earned him his second yellow card in quick succession.
Buoyed by their numerical advantage, Gracia’s men poured forward, with Cop testing Oblak from just inside the box after being played in by Weligton.
The visitors remained a threat on the break, however, and could have snatched an unlikely late winner had Kameni not pulled off a fine sprawling save to deny Torres after the former Chelsea man had burst in on goal.
But instead it was Malaga who claimed the points with four minutes left in fortuitous circumstances.
Oblak did extremely well to block a fierce strike from Roberto Rosales with his feet, but the Atletico defence failed to clear the danger and Charles’ volley took a huge deflection of Godin and crept into the bottom-right corner.
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