MADRID – Diego Simeone, who has made Atletico Madrid a force to be reckoned with Spain and Europe, got a giant monkey off his back on Saturday as the Colchoneros beat Barcelona in LaLiga for the first time in the 18 matches of his tenure as coach.
The victory lifted Atleti to 20 points, the same as Real Sociedad, but the San Sebastian club is first in LaLiga by virtue of having scored more goals than the capital side.
Barça, meanwhile, is in 10th place with 11 points after winning just once in its last six league outings.
Atletico, unbeaten in 24 LaLiga matches and undefeated at home in 19 games across all competitions, prevailed on Saturday without new talisman Luis Suarez, who was excluded after testing positive for COVID-19.
The visitors had more of the ball and had their opportunities.
Antoine Griezmann fired over the crossbar in the second minute. In the 40th, Atleti goalkeeper Jan Oblak turned aside Lionel Messi’s shot from a difficult angle.
What would prove to be the only goal of the night came in first-half stoppage time.
The play began with an uncharacteristic giveaway by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique – who would leave the pitch with an injury in the second half – and continued with a pass from Angel Correa to Yannick Carrasco.
As the Belgian rushed toward goal, keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen miscalculated by coming out so far that he gave Carrasco an easy strike into the empty net.
Earlier, defending LaLiga champion Real Madrid jumped out to a lead in the second minute of its match away to Villarreal, but failed to build on that advantage and the host salvaged a point on a goal from the spot in the final stretch.
The Blancos could not have hoped for a better start. Mariano headed-in a Dani Carvajal cross on the visitors’ first approach to the Villarreal goal.
Real Madrid dominated in the first half against a home side eager to validate its impressive start with a solid performance against one of LaLiga’s heavyweights.
The traveling side limited the normally potent Villarreal attack to one chance in the opening period. Gerard Moreno delivered a fine pass to Dani Parejo in scoring position in the 20th minute only to see his teammate’s header skip over the crossbar.
With Parejo and Manu Trigueros setting the pace, Villarreal was more assertive in the second half and Moreno came close to equalizing from the six-yard line.
But the hosts still trailed at the hour mark, prompting coach Unai Emery to make a triple-substitution, adding Samuel Chukwueze, Pervis Estupiñan and Yeremi Pino.
The move turned out to be the right one.
In the 75th minute, Estupiñan found Chukwueze in the box and Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois had little choice but to bring down the Nigerian. The referee awarded a penalty and Moreno converted to make it 1-1.
Buoyed by the goal, Villarreal flew forward. It took a timely intervention by Blancos defender Nacho to stop Take Kubo from winning the match for the home side in stoppage time.
Villarreal, with 19 points, is third in the table, two points ahead of Real Madrid.
Sevilla scored twice in the final five minutes of regulation to beat Celta 4-2.
Both teams came into the contest in Seville in pursuit of a second consecutive victory, though they face very distinct challenges.
For Sevilla, who finished fourth last season, the aim was to mark a definitive end to a run of bad form that saw them tumble to the bottom half of the table, while 19th-place Celta was anxious to climb out of the drop zone.
The hosts made a strong start and chances fell to Lucas Ocampos, Youssef En-Nesyri and Oliver Torres before Jules Kounde put them on the board in the fifth minute, knocking in the rebound after Celta keeper Ruben Blanco stopped a Diego Carlos header.
Sevilla looked set to cruise to victory, yet they conceded an equalizer just five minutes later as Tomas Vaclik’s rushed attempt to bat away a cross by Hugo Mallo resulted in an easy goal for Iago Aspas.
Celta went up 2-1 in the 36th minute when Nolito – like Aspas, a former Sevilla player – scored after beating Fernando Reges to a loose ball.
En-Nesyri brought the home side back on level terms with a goal in first-half stoppage time.
Sevilla made the running in the second half, though Vaclik was called upon twice in the space of three minutes before coach Julen Lopetequi turned to his bench with 20 minutes left, replacing Oliver Torres and En-Nesyri with Munir El Haddadi and Luuk de Jong.
The teams were still even at 2-2 as the match entered the final 10 minutes, but Sevilla’s Sergio Escudero scored from distance in the 85th and El Haddadi chipped over Blanco three minutes later to give the home side the 4-2 triumph, spoiling Eduardo “Chacho” Coudet’s debut as coach of Celta.
The outcome boosted Sevilla to seventh in LaLiga with 13 points from eight matches.
Saturday’s action began in Valencia, where Levante hosted surprising Elche.
Gonzalo Melero put the home team ahead in the 12th minute, but Tete Morente replied for Elche with 25 minutes left to allow the visitors to come away with a point and hang onto eighth place.