Real Madrid close on top spot after Atletico stumble again

MADRID (AFP) – Real Madrid are back within touching distance of the top of La Liga after they punished another Atletico Madrid slip against Levante early yesterday by beating Real Valladolid 1-0.

Atletico had the chance to stretch their lead to 11 points this week by winning back-to-back games against Levante but instead they followed a 1-1 draw on Wednesday with a surprise 2-0 loss, meaning a five-point advantage became only six.

Real Madrid cranked up the pressure again by edging to a win over struggling Real Valladolid, Casemiro’s second-half header cutting the gap to just three points, albeit with Atletico still owning a game in hand.

“It’s not because Atletico lost. We believe we can win the league,” said Casemiro.

“There are still 42 points left, that’s a lot of points.”

The swing in momentum comes at a bad time for Atletico, who face Chelsea in the Champions League tomorrow night, and it feels significant given it has coincided with a resurgence, in La Liga at least, for their chasing rivals.

Real Madrid’s victory at the Jose Zorilla Stadium was their fourth in a row, three of those coming with clean sheets, which suggests a return to form for a defence that all but clinched them the title last season.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have done it without several key players too. Karim Benzema is the latest absentee through injury, joining the likes of Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal on the sidelines.

Benzema is struggling to be fit in time for Real Madrid’s Champions League game away at Atalanta on Wednesday.

“It is better, we will see tomorrow, but we are not going to risk anything,” said Zidane.

It meant a rare start for Mariano Diaz up front against Valladolid, while Isco was the only senior player on the bench.

Atleti’s defeat was only their second in the league this season and their first at the Wanda Metropolitano in any competition since Barca beat them there in December 2019.

They have now gone seven league games without a clean sheet, their longest run since Simeone became coach in 2011, and their hopes of tightening up will not be helped by an injury to Jose Gimenez, who hobbled off and may not be fit to face Chelsea.