MADRID (AFP) – Atletico Madrid followed up their surprise win over Liverpool by beating Villarreal in La Liga last Sunday as Joao Felix marked his return from injury with a first league goal since September.
Felix came off the bench at the Wanda Metropolitano after almost a month out with an ankle problem and the 20-year-old looked refreshed as he drove in Atletico’s third in an impressive 3-1 victory.
Kieran Trippier was also back after recovering from a groin injury and he was involved in Atletico’s second goal as Koke headed in. Angel Correa had earlier cancelled out Paco Alcacer’s strike for Villarreal.
Atletico’s inconsistency this season means they are out of the title race, 12 points adrift of leaders Barcelona, who thrashed Eibar 5-0 last Saturday.
But momentum would be timely as Atleti bid to consolidate their place in the top four and capitalise on their 1-0 advantage against Liverpool next month in the Champions League last 16.
Diego Simeone’s side move up to third in La Liga, level on points with Sevilla, who earlier struck a superb 3-0 win away at fellow top-four rivals Getafe. Liverpool are expected to overturn Atletico’s lead at Anfield but it looks like Simeone will be able to field a bolstered side for the second leg.
Diego Costa came off the bench last Tuesday, although he was not involved against Villarreal, while Felix, Trippier and Morata are all fit again and available.
Felix’s recovery will be particularly welcome. The Portugese, who signed for EUR120 million from Benfica last summer, has struggled to live up to expectations but perhaps some time away will have done him good.
He looked revitalised after coming on as a substitute and could prove a valuable addition during the run-in.
Alcacer, who joined Villarreal from Borussia Dortmund last month, gave the away side the lead with a brilliant shot from the edge of the box in the 16th minute but Correa levelled before half-time, flicking in after a mistake by Raul Albiol.
Koke completed the turnaround in the 64th minute, heading in Correa’s chip after Trippier had cut it back to the Argentinian from the right. Felix then added a third with a driven shot, which squirmed through Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Sevilla delivered a huge boost to their own hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League by beating Getafe for their first victory in six matches.