Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann kept Atletico Madrid’s challenge alive as they kicked off a huge week in LaLiga’s title tussle with a 2-0 win over Girona at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Coach Diego Simeone had promised at the weekend that Atleti would fight champions Barcelona “until our last breath” and Godin’s scrappy 76th-minute header kept them in the hunt.
The hosts came into this match 10 points behind Barca, also in action against Villarreal on Tuesday, and they were frustrated for long periods by a Girona side who provided a consistent threat.
But Godin found a way through and, after Griezmann added scarcely deserved gloss with a superb stoppage-time chip, Atleti can head to Camp Nou for a meeting between the top two on Saturday with their hope intact.
Atletico made a laboured start amid distracting scenes in the stands, as fans staged a 12th-minute walk-in protest due to a perceived lack of appreciation from the players following the Champions League defeat to Juventus.
Jan Oblak twice had to be alert to save stooping Seydou Doumbia headers, while opposing goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was not caused any major concern until late in the first half when Koke cracked a sensational 25-yard effort off the crossbar.
Alvaro Morata failed to accurately measure a delicate bouncing lob over Iraizoz moments later.
The Girona goalkeeper parried clear when Saul Niguez superbly worked room for a shot just after the hour mark, before blocking well from substitute Vitolo, but it was Iraizoz’s error that gifted Godin the opener.
He punched straight up in the air as he challenged Griezmann following a deflected shot and Godin was on hand to head into the empty net, with an initial offside call overturned by VAR.
Girona sought to rescue the contest but succeeded only in leaving themselves open at the back. Griezmann twice ran through and, although Iraizoz saved well initially, the forward dinked a cute finish in with his second effort to seal the points.
What does it mean? Fans put through the grind
Given the first-half protest, Atletico would have been well advised to put on a show and win back the affections of their supporters. But unlike Saturday’s big win at Alaves, this was largely a slog played out in a tough atmosphere. At least Simeone’s men got the three points ahead of a big trip to Barcelona.
It should be concerning for Simeone that goalkeeper Oblak was required to be Atletico’s star man in a home match against a mid-table side. The Slovenia international was typically brilliant and made one especially smart early save from Doumbia, who somehow found himself unmarked in the area.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 2, 2019
Morata not quite firing
There have been signs of promise from Morata since he returned to LaLiga with his boyhood club and he scored against Alaves at the weekend. But this was a performance the like of which Chelsea fans will know far too well, offering little presence in attack and squandering the one big chance that came his way. Consistency is needed.
Key Opta Facts
– Griezmann scored his first goal for Atletico in all competitions since February 16 against Rayo Vallecano, ending with a run of seven games without a goal, his second longest goal drought for the Rojiblancos.
– Simeone has won his first game against Girona in all competitions, after drawing his previous five encounters against them.
– Only Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos (21) has scored more headed goals than Godin (14) in LaLiga since 2010-11 among defenders.
– Oblak has saved 24 of the last 26 shots on target he has faced for Atletico in LaLiga (two goals conceded).
Atletico simply must win at Barca on Saturday if they are going to deliver on Simeone’s promise to at least push the leaders all the way. Girona host Espanyol next.
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