Real Madrid close on top spot after Atletico stumble again
Published: 10:51 AM, 21 February 2021
Casemiro (second left) scored his fifth league goal of the season
Real Madrid are back within touching distance of the top of La Liga after they punished another Atletico Madrid slip against Levante on Saturday 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 on Tuesday, 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.
Barcelona, meanwhile, play at home to Cadiz on Sunday when Ronald Koeman’s side will be hoping to ease the pain of the Champions League thrashing by Paris Saint-Germain in midweek with an eighth consecutive win in La Liga.