Atletico title hopes suffer blow
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.”
atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone.