Atletico Madrid slip up against Levante
Diego Simeone’s side need two victories from their final two games to clincht La Liga title
Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid reacts during the La Liga defeat to Levante yesterday. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Levante 2 - Atletico Madrid 0
Atletico Madrid are still two victories away from winning the Spanish league title for the first time in 18 years but now they have only two games left in which to get them.
This was the afternoon the title race could have ended; instead it will go to the last day, when Diego Simeone’s side travel to the Camp Nou and Real Madrid face Espanyol at home. Twenty-three shots yielded no reward as Atletico were defeated 2-0 at Levante, thanks to an own goal from Filipe Luis and another in the second half, scored by David Barral.
On Saturday Barcelona bade farewell to the title; their 2-2 draw against Getafe looks even more daft now, but they are not entirely out of it yet and nor are Real Madrid. Barcelona go to Elche next weekend, while Atletico play Malaga at home. Real were to face Valencia last night, Valladolid in midweek and Celta away after that. Should the three contenders win those matches, all of them will have a chance on the final day. A final three-way tie on 91 points is perfectly possible, should Barcelona win that game.
Atletico did not just lose the chance to take a huge step towards the title by beating Levante, they missed out on the opportunity to potentially make the final day irrelevant to Barcelona by picking up at least a point, theoretically increasingly their chances of winning in Catalonia. They may still be favourites but the pressure is on.
This was a hugely damaging, if not definitive, defeat. That said, Levante, too, had nothing to play for and yet they played for their lives.
Atletico were a goal down after only six minutes when an in-swinging corner bounced up, hit Filipe Luis in the stomach five yards out and rebounded into the net beyond Thibaut Courtois.
It was only the second goal Atletico had conceded in the last 10 league games and they knew that the task before them would be difficult now. No team had conceded fewer goals than Levante: Joaquin Caparros’s side had kept 16 clean sheets and let in 16 at home.
The visitors found themselves in an unfamiliar position too. Although they had trailed at Stamford Bridge and beaten Chelsea, rarely have they had to chase the game. Atletico had scored the first goal 25 times this season, while in their three defeats until now, they had failed to score: against Espanyol, Almeria and Osasuna. In the first of those, the goal had come, like here, from an Atletico player putting the ball in his own net.
Soon the kind of diagonal pass that has proven so beneficial this year found Raul Garcia in the area, eight or nine yards out. He controlled on his chest and turned to shoot, only for Keylor Navas to make a stunning save. The ball ran to David Villa but he shot over. Then Diego Costa was played through, one on one with the goalkeeper but the linesman’s flag was wrongly raised. Navas then made a sharp save at the near post from Toby Alderweireld.
A pattern was developing. All the while, Costa was growing angry and Atletico became more frustrated. The striker leapt into Navas and then clashed with Mohamed Sissoko. Costa was fortunate the referee did not see him elbow the Mali international after he had thumped his fists into Costa’s stomach. Sissoko then appeared to throw a punch.
At half-time, Simeone sent on Adrian and Arda Turan. The latter had three chances in two minutes. The first was created by Costa and Gabi but was charged down by Juanfran. The second was blocked by David Navarro. And the third was a header over the bar. Deeper and deeper, Levante got.
But that is a role with which they are familiar and no keeper has made more saves this season than Navas. Filipe Luis was the next player to have a shot blocked from well inside the area, although he had not hit it well. Costa then dived to reach a curling free-kick but from barely two yards out, at full stretch, he could not make proper contact and the ball squirmed wide. Navas brilliantly pushed away Alderweireld’s deflected shot as it headed into the top scorer.
There was less then half an hour remaining now and Simeone had already made all three changes, Diego joining Turan and Adrian. That was when Levante ended it.
Barral, who began his a career at Real Madrid, controlled a cross from Victor on the left and shot beyond Courtois. At the other end, Adrian then curled a lovely shot against the post. Agonisingly close but empty handed. That was the story of Atletico’s day. The fear is it could still be the story of their season.