Atletico loses at Sporting to stumble in Spanish title race
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Atletico Madrid stumbled in its pursuit of Barcelona for the Spanish league title after conceding two late goals to lose at relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon 2-1 on Saturday.
Atletico looked set to maintain its title challenge after Antoine Griezmann scored from a free kick in the first half.
The visitors’ defense resisted Sporting’s attack until a late push produced a free kick that Antonio Sanabria blasted in with 11 minutes to play.
Sporting’s Carlos Castro completed the turnaround with a goal in the 89th with Atletico playing with 10 men after defender Jose Gimenez went down injured after coach Diego Simeone made all three substitutions.
Barcelona leads second-place Atletico by eight points before visiting fourth-place Villarreal on Sunday.
“We always kept clear the objective of this club, which is to finish in third place. The loss goes against any aspirations of finishing as champions,” said Simeone, who insists Atletico overachieves by even competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Atletico remained four points above Real, which was third.
“We controlled the game until they equalized,” Simeone said. “There is no need to look for excuses. We don’t have anything else.”
Atletico can also chase silverware in the Champions League, with Friday’s draw pitting the club against Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
Atletico conceded a league-low 12 goals in the previous 29 rounds this season, and only one of those in the last six matches. The game at El Molinon Stadium was following that exact script until Sporting’s revival.
After Griezmann curled his free kick over the barrier and just inside the post, the 2014 champions were content to allow Sporting possession and lock down their defense, despite playing without leading defender Diego Godin due to a leg injury.
And the strategy that Simeone has perfected was working just fine until the last 12 minutes.
Sanabria hit the post, and moments later the striker finally beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a powerful free kick struck through the wall that Atletico midfielder Matias Kranevitter deflected, leaving Oblak out of position.
Shortly after, Gimenez pulled up clutching his leg during a sprint to keep up with Sanabria on a counterattack, leaving the latter clear to draw Oblak off his line and pass to Castro with the net open.
Castro struck the ball off the bar to the disbelief of home fans but he made up for it in another attack down the left flank that left him needing only to tap home a pass from Jony Rodriguez.
Elsewhere, Malaga continued its rise up the standings into eighth place after midfielder Ignacio Camacho headed in an 82nd-minute winner to down home side Real Betis 1-0.
At the bottom of the table, Rayo Vallecano defender Ze Castro scored late to earn a 2-2 draw at Granada, which got two goals from Youssef El Arabi before having Isaac Success sent off with a second yellow card midway through the second half. The result left both teams on the edge of the drop zone.
Las Palmas striker Willian Jose also scored for a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad that moved the Canary Island club away from danger.
An own goal by goalkeeper Diego Marino with five minutes remaining sunk bottom side Levante at Deportivo La Coruna, which ended a 13-round winless streak with a 2-1 victory.
Real Madrid hosts fifth-place Sevilla on Sunday, a round before Zinedine Zidane’s side travels to Barcelona for the second “clasico” match of the season.