Atletico ti­tle hopes suf­fer blow

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MAD MADRID — Atletico Madrid’s hop hopes of a sec­ond straight La Liga crown were hang­ing by a thread on Sun­day af­ter a 2-0 los loss at Celta Vigo that de­fender Diego Godin blamed on the abs ab­sence of mid­field­ers Koke, Arda Tu­ran and Raul Gar­cia.

Atletico were a shadow of the side that beat lead­ers Real Madrid 4-0 at the Calderon last week­end and barely threat­ened the Celta goal in a weak per­for­mance that left them seven points be be­hind Real and six adrift of sec­ond-placed Barcelona.

The ex­cel­lent Nolito fired Celta ahead with a penalty in the 59th minute at their Balai­dos sta­dium in Gali­cia and Fabian Orel­lana made it 2-0 in the 71st to cap a deser served vic­tory. For Atletico, strik­ers Mario Man Mandzu­kic and Fer­nando Tor­res toiled fruit­lessly, while An­toine Griez­mann had their best chan chance shortly be­fore Orel­lana’s goal but his low strike was tippe tipped onto a post by Celta goal­keepe keeper Ser­gio Al­varez.

It was the first time Atletico had failed to score away in La Liga since a 0-0 draw at city neigh­bours Rayo Val­le­cano at the end of Au­gust and they sorely missed the in­jured Koke and sus­pended Arda and Gar­cia. “We’re a large group and we’re all prep pre­pared to play,” Godin said in an in­ter­view with Span­ish broad­caster Canal Plus.

“But we are not go­ing to lie ei­ther, they (Koke, Arda and Gar­cia) are im­por­tant play­ers,” added the Uruguay in­ter­na­tional.

“It al­ways hurts to lose, we never want to and we are com­ing away feel­ing sad.”

Atletico have a home game against Alme­ria in La Liga next week­end be­fore they travel to Bayer Lev­erkusen for their Cham­pi­ons League last-16, first leg tie.

Koke, who has a ham­string prob­lem, is un­likely to be fit to face Lev­erkusen but Arda and Gar­cia should be back as Atletico seek to re­peat last sea­son’s run to the fi­nal.

How­ever, Sun­day’s re­verse ex­posed the lim­i­ta­tions of coach Diego Sime­one’s squad and will give the for­mer Ar­gentina cap­tain a good deal of food for thought for the chal­lenges ahead.

Mean­while, Barcelona boss Luis En­rique said he is savour­ing the chance to watch Lionel Messi af­ter the Ar­gen­tine notched his fifth hat­trick of the sea­son in a 5-0 romp over Le­vante on Sun­day.

Messi was at the heart of the ac­tion as he teed up Ney­mar for the opener and then struck three times ei­ther side of half­time to take his tally for the sea­son to 37 on his 300th La Liga ap­pear­ance.

Ney­mar was then re­placed by Luis Suarez mid­way through the sec­ond-half and he also made his pres­ence felt with a stun­ning over­head kick to round off the scor­ing.

En­rique had made eight changes to the side that had beaten Vil­lar­real in the Copa del Rey in mid­week, but dis­missed sug­ges­tions he could have also taken the chance to with- draw Messi af­ter he had com­pleted his hat-trick.

“The idea is to en­joy. That is what we are do­ing, en­joy­ing him as much as pos­si­ble,” said En­rique.

The four-time World Player of the Year has been unstoppable in 2015 with 14 goals and 10 as­sists in 11 ap­pear­ances.

That up­turn in for­tunes has co­in­cided with Messi mov­ing to a slightly wider po­si­tion to al­low Suarez to play as a cen­tral striker and En­rique lauded his abil­ity to cre­ate as well fin­ish.

“Against teams that play deep and with a lot of play­ers in the mid­dle of the field we need to have width and move the ball quickly to cre­ate dan­ger.

“It is key for us that Leo par­tic­i­pates a lot, that he can have many touches to be able to cre­ate two or three on ones, make passes and cre­ate space. “When there are a lot of peo­ple in the mid­dle it is harder for him to com­bine, so he has free­dom to go where he can find space.”

En­rique re­ceived crit­i­cism ear­lier in the sea­son for his ro­ta­tion pol­icy, but he is be­gin­ning to look jus­ti­fied as Barca en­ter a de­ci­sive part of the cam­paign on the back of an 11-game win­ning run, while Madrid have fal­tered in re­cent weeks.

“That was an ob­jec­tive we had at the start of the sea­son to have a big squad with so much qual­ity,” he said.

“Hav­ing so many qual­ity play­ers al­lows you to ro­tate. I would say that we have al­most un­lim­ited re­sources.”

— Reuters

atletico Madrid coach Diego Sime­one.

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