For a second straight match, Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone made all the right moves to get a result that tightened competition at the top of the Spanish league.
Simeone’s decision to send on Kevin Gameiro proved key to beating a Deportivo La Coruna side that remained stubborn despite playing the entire second half with 10 men.
Four minutes after going on, the striker used his speed to set up Antoine Griezmann for the goal that secured a 1-0 victory with 20 minutes remaining at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
“Gameiro played well as soon as he went on and was decisive in the move that produced the goal,” Simeone said. “We had a tough time settling into the match and it was getting away from us.”
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After drawing its first two matches of the season against newly-promoted sides, Atletico appeared to have already seriously damaged its hopes of making the title race a three-way contest with Barcelona and Real Madrid for a fourth straight season.
But Simeone’s side is right back in the thick of things after a positive week. Atletico climbed into third place and closed to within two points of Madrid a day after the leader stumbled to a 2-2 draw at Las Palmas. Atletico also pulled to within one point of second-placed Barcelona, five days after its 1-1 draw at the defending champions on Wednesday.
Simeone’s latest tactical twist came after he pulled Angel Correa and Fernando Torres off the bench while trailing at Barcelona, and the pair immediately linked up for Correa’s equalizer.
While Simeone kept pulling the strings Sunday, it again fell to Griezmann to provide the goal.
The goal was his fifth in six rounds this season, putting him level with Barcelona’s Luis Suarez as the league’s leading scorers.
The France forward tapped in a squared pass from Gameiro, who had beaten the offside trap to reach a throughball from Juanfran Torres.
The victory came at a price, however.
Atletico lost midfielder Augusto Fernandez and defender Jose Gimenez to leg injuries in the first half. Both players had to be stretchered off the pitch.
The club said that Fernandez “completely tore” a ligament in his right knee, while Gimenez injured a muscle in his right leg.
Deportivo was able to stifle Atletico’s attack until Faycal Fajr left his team a man down in first-half injury time when he picked up a second yellow card for a low tackle on Nicolas Gaitan.
It was Atletico in complete control for the rest of the match, and only the goalkeeping of German Lux kept the visitors clinging to a scoreless draw.
Lux pushed Yannick Carrasco’s long strike onto his bar in the 53rd at the start of a barrage by Atletico. Lux then denied Carrasco from close range before saving a point-blank header by Angel Correa.
Simeone took the risky decision to pull Carrasco, Atletico’s most incisive player until that point, for Gameiro.
The decision proved key to getting the winner, as Gameiro darted free down the right side before finding Griezmann with his low pass.
It was Deportivo’s fifth straight round without a win.
“We played an intelligent first half, but after the sending off of Faycal Fajr we couldn’t continue with the same plan,” Lux said. “It changed completely. We have to pick ourselves up and get past this.”
LEGANES 1, VALENCIA 2
Valencia continued its rebound under interim coach Salvador “Voro” Gonzalez with a second straight win after the club was in last place under former manager Pako Ayestaran.
Nani and Mario Suarez, both newcomers to Valencia this season, scored to fight back for a 2-1 win at promoted club Leganes, which struck first through Alexander Szymanowski.
This is the third time Voro, a long-time club employee, has acted as caretaker coach for Valencia as the club searches for a permanent replacement for Ayestaran.
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