Elche captain Fidel missed a stoppage-time penalty as Atletico Madrid picked up a narrow 1-0 win to tighten their grip on top spot in LaLiga ahead of next week’s huge showdown with Barcelona.
Diego Simeone’s side lost 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao last weekend and were fortunate to avoid another slip-up against relegation-threatened Elche in Saturday’s contest at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero.
Marcos Llorente scored what proved to be the all important goal for Atleti with his 12th league strike of the campaign in the 23rd minute after Luis Suarez had one chalked off for a marginal offside.
However, Elche wasted a glorious chance to snatch a share of the spoils in the 91st minute as Fidel fired a penalty against the post, meaning Atletico move five points clear of Real Madrid and Barca, who both have a game in hand to play.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 1, 2021
Suarez fired wide of the target with just Paulo Gazzaniga to beat early on and then had a goal disallowed by VAR for an offside infringement after being teed up by Llorente.
But there was no denying Llorente five minutes later as his shot from 12 yards deflected heavily off the arm of Dani Calvo and away from Gazzaniga for the breakthrough goal.
Atleti were given a penalty late in the first half for a handball against Diego Gonzalez, but VAR intervened as Angel Correa’s shot hit the defender’s body before striking his arm.
It was proving to be a frustrating day for Suarez as he was once again undone by the offside flag when latching on to Correa’s throughball and converting at the second attempt.
Elche would have moved out of the bottom three with a point and had a couple of great chances to do exactly that in a tense finale.
Substitute Antonio Barragan volleyed over from close range late on and then Fidel was denied by the frame of the goal from a penalty awarded for Llorente’s handball in the dying embers, much to the relief of Simeone.
What does it mean? Atleti just about in control of title destiny
With Barca losing their game in hand at home to Granada on Thursday, Atletico will be crowned champions for a second time in eight seasons if they win their remaining four matches.
That includes a truly massive table-topping clash at Camp Nou next week, at which point Barca could be back to within two points of Atleti if they beat Valencia on Sunday.
Madrid are also very much in the title mix, and indeed Sevilla, making this a big win for Los Rojiblancos – their eighth in a row against Elche in the league – but it would have been a different story had Fidel converted his penalty.
Llorente leading title charge
The midfielder scored the winning goal for Atletico from one of his two shots on target – no other player on the field managed more than one across the 90 minutes.
Llorente has now had a hand in 15 LaLiga goals in 2021 – seven goals and eight assists – which is behind only Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (27) and Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno (16).
Suarez twice denied
The Uruguay international was making his first start for Atletico in nearly a month after recovering from injury but endured a frustrating time of things on Saturday.
He had a goal ruled out in each half for offside and failed to score from any of his two legitimate attempts, leaving him stuck on 19 league goals for the season.
Atletico have that massive trip to Barcelona next Saturday, while Elche, who remain in the relegation zone with this defeat, travel to Real Sociedad in six days’ time.
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