Atletico Madrid rebounded from a recent poor form with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Villarreal on Sunday, extending their La Liga lead to five points.
After a stutter that allowed Barcelona and Real Madrid to gain ground in the title race, Atletico won a crucial match thanks to an own goal from Alfonso Pedraza and a powerful strike from Joao Felix.
Diego Simeone’s team was coming off a Champions League last-16 loss to Chelsea and a league stretch in which they had only picked up five points in their previous four games.
Despite Villarreal’s best efforts, Atletico Madrid held on for a victory that holds second-placed Barcelona at bay and, more importantly, stretches the distance between them and rivals Real Madrid to six points ahead of the local derby next weekend.
Madrid will close the gap on Atletico Madrid to three points when they host Real Sociedad on Monday night.
“We were punished, and they had good chances even after the second goal. However, we return home with a vital victory at this point in the season “Simeone said.
Pedraza’s bizarre own goal halfway through the first half gave Atletico the advantage, and it came after a lengthy VAR search to see if Stefan Savic, who was originally credited with the goal, had strayed offside for Thomas Lemar’s cross.
Sergio Asenjo saved Savic’s header, but the ball ricocheted off Pedraza and into the net as the 24-year-old defender collapsed.
When Gerard Moreno met a Daniel Parejo cross, he should have equalized for the hosts, but he couldn’t muster a decisive finish, and Savic recovered quickly to clear the ball off the line.