Atlético in pole position after beating Barca, Real Madrid slip

Barcelona, Nov 22: Atlético Madrid strengthened its status as the early front-runner in the Spanish league title race after beating Barcelona and watching Real Madrid fall further behind.
Under coach Diego Simeone, Atlético knew what it was like to beat Barcelona in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, but it had been denied a victory over Lionel Messi’s side in the domestic league in 20 consecutive attempts. Its first win over Barcelona in the competition on Saturday, since 2010 left it level on points with league leader Real Sociedad before the Basque Country club visits Cádiz on Sunday. Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona was left languishing in 10th place at nine points back. Both Atlético and Barcelona have games in hand due to their late start to the season after playing in the Champions League quarterfinals in August.
Lionel Messi tried to rally his team with crosses for Clement Lenglet and Antoine Griezmann, whose headers were easily saved by Jan Oblak. Otherwise, Atlético played the game it loves: putting a stranglehold on the opposing attack and letting the clock do the rest.
Without Sergio Ramos’ leadership and Karim Benzema’s scoring touch, Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid had to hold on for a point at El Estadio de la Cerámica. Madrid made a promising start when rarely used striker Mariano Díaz did well to head in a cross from Dani Carvajal three minutes after kickoff.
Madrid controlled the rest of the first half, but Unai Emery’s Villarreal improved after the restart. Villarreal is in third place at one point off the pace. Madrid was missing Ramos, Benzema and Federico Valverde because of injury. (AP)

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