Madrid (AFP) – Antoine Griezmann was Atletico Madrid’s hero once more as he struck 17 minutes from time to snatch a 1-0 win away to Espanyol on Saturday.
Atletico were outplayed for large spells and were also thankful to goalkeeper Jan Oblak as he made a brilliant save to deny Leo Baptistao salvaging a point for Espanyol.
Victory restores Atletico’s three-point lead over Sevilla in the fight for third place behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, who face off on Sunday.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone made just one change from the side that booked their place in a third Champions League semi-final in four years against Leicester.
And their midweek exertions appeared to take their toll as neither side threatened before the break.
However, the introduction of Kevin Gameiro alongside Griezmann gave Atletico an added dimension for the final 25 minutes.
Diego Lopez made a fine save to prevent Gameiro turning home Saul Niguez’s knockdown.
However, the former Real Madrid stopper could have done better when Griezmann volleyed home his 25th goal of the season after latching onto Niguez’s deflected shot.
Baptistao should have levelled seconds later when he bore down on goal, but Oblak made himself big to register his eighth clean sheet in 11 games.
Earlier, Villarreal moved back to within eight points of the top four in hugely controversial fashion as Cedric Bakambu punched home a stoppage time winner to cruelly deny Leganes.
Bakambu had put Villarreal in front before Miguel Angel Guerrero looked to have salvaged a vital point in Leganes’ battle to avoid the drop.
However, Bakambu struck again seconds later and the goal was allowed to stand despite the Congolese striker having clearly used to hand to turn home Jonathan dos Santos’s cross.
Leganes were, though, handed a let-off as Osasuna and Sporting Gijon drew 2-2 which does little to aid either side’s chances of beating the drop.
Sporting are now four points adrift of Leganes in 18th with Osasuna five points worse off at the bottom of the table.
Recio and Sandro Ramirez were on target as Malaga secured their place in La Liga for next season with a 2-0 win over Valencia.
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