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Atletico stumble again to keep La Liga title race alive

Madrid (AFP) – Atletico Madrid gave renewed hope to their La Liga title rivals on Saturday by losing 2-0 at home to Levante and missing the chance to extend their six-point lead at the top of the table.

The defeat is only Atletico’s second in the league this season and their first at the Wanda Metropolitano in any competition since Barcelona beat them there in December 2019.

It means what could have been a commanding 11-point advantage at the top of the table is now just six, with Real Madrid, the closest challengers, up against Real Valladolid later on Saturday.

Due to rearranged fixtures, Atletico were facing Levante for the second time in four days, having already dropped two points against them in a 1-1 away draw on Wednesday.

And Levante proved that was no fluke by going one better, even if they had to survive 28 Atletico shots before the final whistle blew. Diego Simeone’s side need to rediscover their rhythm for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg at home to Chelsea.

“League campaigns are always the same, with big moments, difficulties, obstacles, for everyone, not only for Atletico Madrid,” Simeone said. “The teams that are strong in those moments are the ones that will achieve their objectives.”

Luis Suarez went closest to finding an equaliser, his bending free-kick in the second half coming back off the post. He has now gone three league games without scoring for the first time this season.

Jose Luis Morales had already put Levante in front after half an hour and while Atletico huffed and puffed, they could not find a way past Levante’s inspired goalkeeper Dani Cardenas.

Cardenas made 10 saves, the most from any La Liga keeper without conceding this term.

– Atletico ‘flat’ in first half –

Atletico’s goalkeeper Jan Oblak went up for a corner in injury-time, leaving Jorge de Frutos to make it two from the halfway line by launching into an open net.

“In the first half we were flat,” said Simeone. “In the second we created a lot of chances, Suarez hit the post — there was a lot of positives to take.”

Atletico have now gone seven league games without a clean sheet, their longest run since Simeone became coach in 2011.

And another concern for Simeone will the fitness of central defender Jose Gimenez, who had to go off injured in the second half, making him a doubt to face Chelsea in midweek.

They were given an early warning by Levante when one long pass from Ruben Rochina was all it took to send Morales in on goal but despite a superb first touch, the striker dribbled his finish wide.

But Morales found the net after half an hour, this time with a bit of luck to help him. Geoffrey Kondogbia dangled a weak leg into a challenge on the edge of the area and the ball fell to Morales to finish after a deflection from Felipe.

Gimenez waved to the bench to come off but for 20 minutes, Atletico launched an assault on Levante’s goal.

Suarez’s curling free-kick hit the post while Joao Felix twice failed to convert from crosses fizzed in from the right.

Correa thought he had an equaliser, poking in after a scramble in the box, but the goal was ruled out for a dubious foul by Suarez as he challenged for a ball in the air.

The chances dried up and Atletico grew desperate. Oblak ventured up for a last-gasp corner but the ball was headed away and De Frutos capitalised to confirm victory.

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