Atletico Madrid kept the pressure on LaLiga leaders Barcelona with a routine 1-0 win over Leganes at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Substitute Saul Niguez buried the rebound from his saved second-half penalty to temporarily reduce Barca’s lead to four points, with the champions hosting struggling Rayo Vallecano later on Saturday.
Diego Simeone, who removed Antoine Griezmann after a goalless first 45 minutes, will now turn his team’s attention to Tuesday’s crunch trip to Juventus in the Champions League.
The Rojiblancos take a 2-0 advantage into the second leg of that last-16 tie, along with an imposing five-match winning streak in all competitions.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) March 9, 2019
Atletico were without two injured left-backs and the suspended Diego Godin but Jan Oblak went untested until Martin Braithwaite’s tame attempt in the 33rd minute.
Leganes did succeed in limiting the hosts to long-range efforts, their nerviest moment of the first half coming when Kenneth Omeruo sliced over his own crossbar in clearing Jose Gimenez’s header.
Simeone, who left the in-form Alvaro Morata on the bench, surprisingly withdrew Griezmann at the interval, though his gamble was justified in the 50th minute.
Omeruo tripped Angel Correa in the box and midfielder Saul, one of two half-time changes, tucked away the loose ball after Andriy Lunin blocked his weak spot-kick.
Thomas Partey almost doubled the margin with deflected shot that dipped against the crossbar, before goalkeeper Lunin – on loan at Leganes from Real Madrid – tipped a Thomas Lemar free-kick against the upright.
Atletico encountered few concerns at the other end as a fifth straight clean sheet helped move them eight points ahead of Real Madrid, who meet Valladolid on Sunday.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) March 9, 2019
What does it mean? Atletico maintain winning form
Atletico will need to be at their best to hold off Juve in midweek and the good news for Simeone is that his team clearly know how to see out a contest.
A run of five shutouts in a row and as many victories on the trot are positive omens ahead of a huge challenge in Turin.
Lunin an unlucky loser
Called in for his second LaLiga start, 20-year-old Lunin demonstrated exactly why Real Madrid signed him in the off-season.
The Ukraine international did his parent club proud by keeping the scoreline closer than it should have been and, though he finished on the beaten side, deserves plaudits for fine saves from both Saul and Lemar.
Kalinic squanders starting chance
Elevated to the starting XI in place of the rested Morata, Nikola Kalinic failed to make the most of his start since January 26 before being withdrawn in the 73rd minute.
The striker was a peripheral figure for long periods, tallying the fewest touchest of Atletico’s starting outfielders, and looks set to fall further down the pecking order.
Key Opta Facts
– Atletico Madrid have won five games in a row for the first time this season, their best streak in all competitions since February 2018 (eight).
– Atletico have not conceded a goal in their last four LaLiga games matches and they are the LaLiga team with the fewest goals conceded in the competition this term (17).
– Diego Simeone’s side are the LaLiga team to have gained the most home points this season, with 35.
– Seven of the 14 LaLiga games at the Wanda Metropolitano this season were goalless at half-time, but Atletico have not lost any of them (W5 D2).
Atletico head to Athletic Bilbao four days after the trip to Italy, while Leganes entertain Girona next Saturday.
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