Atletico sweep aside Celta Vigo to top La Liga

Andy West 11/01/2016
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Enjoying life: Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco.

Atletico Madrid returned to the top of La Liga with a smooth and assured victory at Celta Vigo, made possible by a magnificent defence which prevented the hosts from creating a single clear chance.

The outstanding Antoine Griezmann and substitute Yannick Carrasco grabbed the goals in the second half, but the key to the victory was at the back and Atletico have now conceded just eight goals in their 19 league games this season, once again underlining their title credentials with three thoroughly deserved points at a venue where Barcelona lost 4-1 in September.

The game had been in severe doubt after torrential rain in Vigo left the Balaidos stadium flooded, and although it was eventually able to go ahead, the players were confronted by an uneven and very soft playing surface.

Celta, who were looking to bounce back after suffering two straight league losses, initially settled better and took the game to Atletico in the opening stages without being able to fashion any openings.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone handed a full debut to Augusto Fernandez against his former club, and the ex-Celta midfielder formed part of a narrow and tightly packed four-man midfield, with the visitors determined to show their usual solidity.

Celta, by contrast, were attempting to play with width and managed to overcome the poor condition of the pitch to string together a flowing passing move midway through the opening period, culminating in the first opportunity of the game as striker Iago Aspas headed wide from a left-wing cross.

Until that point Atletico’s attacking threat had been limited to sporadic breaks from quick forwards Luciano Vietto and Griezmann, but they gradually grew into the game and went on to dominate the remainder of the opening period.

With Saul Niguez prominent in much of their attacking play, Atletico created the best chance of the opening period as Griezmann exchanged passes with Koke to shoot from the edge of the box, but his effort flew over the top.

Atletico started the second half in a similar fashion and soon took the lead with a wonderfully worked goal, as Koke cut inside to find Griezmann whose lay-off released Vietto down the left, and his low cross was perfectly into the path of Griezmann for the Frenchman to fire home.

Simeone reacted to going ahead by reverting to a 4-5-1 formation with scorer Griezmann moving to the right wing, and his team continued to dominate as substitute Carrasco fired a long-range strike over the bar.

With the rain pouring down to threaten another flood, Celta tried to react by bringing on another striker, Jon Guidetti, but Atletico’s magnificent defence was standing as firm as ever and the visitors always looked capable of doubling their lead on the break.

And that is exactly what happened with 10 minutes remaining, as the livewire Carrasco picked up a loose ball and drove towards goal, beating two defenders before thrashing a fierce left-footed shot into the back of the net, killing off the game as Atleti’s defence did the rest to secure another clean sheet.

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La Liga: Valencia's winless run continues with Real Sociedad defeat

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Match-winner: Jonathas (right).

Valencia manager Gary Neville is trying to remain positive despite now going five games without a win in La Liga as Jonathas’s late double handed Real Sociedad a 2-0 triumph in San Sebastian.

Neville’s men had shown promising signs in holding Real Madrid 2-2 last weekend and a 4-0 thrashing of Granada in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but have now gone two months without a league win to almost certainly end their hopes of reaching the Champions League.

“It’s a blow, we needed momentum, but we played well below the expectations we have set ourselves,” said Neville. “We have to snap out of it and start winning. I can only ask the fans to be patient. The dressing room is disappointed, as am I, but tomorrow is a fresh start and we have to get the fans to believe.”

Valencia ‘keeper Jaume Domenech was at fault as he flapped at Carlos Martinez’s deflected cross and Jonathas bundled home from close range 12 minutes from time.

The same two players combined for the second four minutes later as the Brazilian this time thumped home the full-back’s cross with a bullet header into the corner.

Elsewhere, Cedric Bakambu struck twice as Villarreal moved to within three points of Barcelona with a 2-0 win over Sporting. Roberto Soldado provided the ammunition for both his strike partner’s goals with crosses that Bakambu clinically dispatched either side of half-time.

Eibar boosted their European hopes by beating Espanyol 2-1 for a third consecutive win. Takashi Inui had given Eibar a 15th-minute lead but it was quickly cancelled out by Joan Jordan only for Borja’s penalty 16 minutes from time to seal the victory.

Malaga’s four-match winning run ended with a 1-1 draw against Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Roque Santa Cruz rescued a point for the visitors after Pedro Tana had opened the scoring

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Pochettino insists Tottenham deserve replay with Leicester

Mark Bryans 11/01/2016
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Saviour: Harry Kane.

Mauricio Pochettino insists his Tottenham side were not lucky to remain in the FA Cup as Harry Kane’s controversial late penalty earned a third-round replay against Leicester.

Kane had started the match on the bench at White Hart Lane but was called upon as the Foxes looked to be on course for another famous victory in their impressive season.

Christian Eriksen had fired the hosts ahead on eight minutes before Marcin Wasilewski levelled and substitute Shinji Okazaki struck moments after coming on to turn the game – only for Kane to thrash home an 89th minute penalty, and his 50th Tottenham goal, to secure a 2-2 draw.

Nathan Dyer conceded the untimely spot-kick having been adjudged to have handled the ball as Danny Rose broke into the Leicester penalty area and Kane, who had not had a chance until that point, emphatically finished to set up a replay.

It means Tottenham and Leicester will meet three times inside a fortnight as next week’s replay is preceded by a league clash between the pair on Wednesday night.

Asked if his side were lucky to get a replay, Pochettino replied: “Lucky? No. You must never give up. I didn’t see if it was or not. But sometimes the decisions are for you sometimes they are against you. If I watch it again I can give a better opinion.

“It’s true we are happy and very pleased to get the draw at the end. It’s important for us to stay alive in the competition. But if we analyse, the first half, we deserved more.

“We dominated the whole game. But I’m happy. The performance was good. We have another chance.”

Both sides made wholesale changes as Tottenham made seven alterations to Leicester’s eight – with Kane only on the Spurs bench and his fellow England forward Jamie Vardy not involved for the Foxes after minor groin surgery.

The replay adds to an already congested month of fixtures but Pochettino has backed his squad to prove its strength in depth as they embark on an important January.

Another trip to north London on Wednesday could see Leicester finish the evening top of the table, with current leaders Arsenal facing a tricky trip to Liverpool.

Claudio Ranieri is hopeful of having top goalscorer Vardy back for the game.

“Today he was 50/50,” the Foxes boss said of Vardy’s fitness. “Tomorrow he starts with us in the warm-up and Tuesday we will do the last training session and if he is okay, he will play.”

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