Alvaro Morata scored his first senior goal for Atletico Madrid as they secured a 2-0 LaLiga win over Villarreal at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The Spain striker had gone nine league matches without scoring, his worst run since January 2016 when he played for Juventus, but his clever finish after 31 minutes set Diego Simeone’s side on their way before Saul Niguez added a late second.
Barcelona’s battling 4-2 defeat of Sevilla on Saturday left Atleti needing a good result to keep the pressure on in the title race, and Simeone named a strong side despite having only four days’ rest from the Champions League victory over Juventus.
Atleti could have paid for a slow start, though, when Karl Toko Ekambi went through on goal, but he could only shoot straight at the legs of Jan Oblak.
Morata had been denied by a good save from Sergio Asenjo, but he made the most of his next opening, turning Filipe Luis’ cross from the left beyond the keeper with a smart first-time finish with his left foot.
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Diego Costa replaced Morata 58 minutes in and twice failed to make the most of one-on-one chances, while Jose Gimenez should have done better with a header he sent into Asenjo’s grasp via the turf.
Gerard Moreno saw a chance snuffed out by Filipe Luis after a fine Alvaro Gonzalez pass, but Villarreal never looked likely to snatch an equaliser before Saul made the result safe, lofting the ball over Asenjo and into the net after the covering Victor Ruiz misjudged the flight of the finish.
What does it mean? Atleti’s title challenge trundles along
This could have been a difficult test for Atleti, so soon after that win over Juventus and against unpredictable opponents, but they made light work of these three points.
The win takes them back to within seven of leaders Barcelona and five ahead of city rivals Real Madrid, who play Levante later on Sunday.
Filipe Luis sends message to Simeone
Barcelona are reportedly interested in signing the left-back at the end of the season, and this was a performance that showed why he remains such a strong player. He was defensively sound throughout and set up Morata’s goal with a clever cross.
Villarreal had few chances but Ekambi wasted the best of them. He offered little of note in the second half, either, when the visitors were chasing the game.
Atleti head to Real Sociedad next Sunday, while Villarreal are back in action a day earlier at home to Deportivo Alaves.
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