Football

Atletico Madrid lose to reopen La Liga title race

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After a historic week which saw Atlético Madrid make the Champions League final for the first time and set up a Lisbon clash with their city rivals, their La Liga challenge suffered a huge blow as they lost 2-0 at mid table Levante.

Levante started the day in 11th place with 42 points and many assumed they would have "nothing to play for." The Valencian side certainly looked up for the match, however, and were deserved winners in the end - even if Levante goalkeeper Navas was arguably the man of the match.

It wasn't long before Levante took the lead thanks to an own goal from Atlético's Felipe Luis. From a corner, the Madrid star looked to chest the ball down, but somehow put it past Thibaut Courtois and gifted the home side - who had only scored 15 home league goals all season - the lead.

Luis almost redeemed himself just minutes later, however, with a long diagonal ball into the box which found Raúl García, who forced the first of many saves from Levante's Navas. David Villa was there to follow up, but smashed the rebound over the bar.

Atlético still looked most likely to score the next goal, even if Levante put in an admirable defensive performance. There was controversy in the 20th minute as Diego Costa was played through by a lovely David Villa pass and was one-on-one with Navas when incorrectly flagged for offside.

Atlético's top scorer was frustrated and his frustration grew throughout the first half. He found himself in a tussle with Levante's Mamo Sissoko and later with Navas, but received no booking from the referee José Luís González. 

In the 35th minute Toby Alderweireld - who was making a rare appearance at right-back - drove a low shot towards Navas' near post. The defender collected the rebound at the byline but rushed his cross and lofted the ball high which allowed Navas to recover and collect.

Levante managed to hold on till half time - or rather until the 44th minute when the referee bizarrely blew for the break before the clock had even reached the number 45 - and forced two half time substitutions from Diego Simeone. The Argentine brought on Arda Turan and Adrián for Raúl García and David Villa.

The two substitutes made an immediate impact, with Adrián having a shot blocked minutes into the half and Turan having one blocked too just a minute later. Turan's effort followed a neat move from the visitors as Diego Costa won the ball in the box and dragged it back for Koke, who squared it to Turan. The man from Turkey couldn't get his shot off before the defence blocked his route to goal.

There was a half-hearted penalty appeal from Diego Costa who fell in the box, but other than that Atlético never looked like breaking the defence down. After finding a way past Chelsea's "parked bus" in their Champions League semi final, Levante's bus proved harder to crack.

The home side even had a break at the other end as Miranda was robbed of the ball and David Barral had the chance to make the most of a two-on-two situation, but was called back for a foul.

Koko came off for Diego on the hour mark and the league leaders looked much more direct and had several chances immediately after the change. Felipe Luis had a shot blocked on the line by a combination of keeper Navas and Vyntra, before Diego Costa's outstretched foot nearly connected with Adrían's free kick. Alderweireld also had a shot saved as his effort from distance was denied a top corner finish by the diving Costa Rican Navas.

Atlético would regret those misses as Levante doubled their lead on 68 minutes with a David Barral finish after a beautiful cross from team-mate Victor. Barral's goal would certainly have been celebrated by his former club Real Madrid who saw an opportunity opening up at the top of the league table.

The goal seemed only to spur Atlético on, however, and soon after the re-start Turan tested Navas again before Adrían controlled a clever chipped past, only to see his curled shot come back off the post.

With time running out, Tiago found an inch of space in the box and managed to get a shot away through the Levante defence, but it fell wide. At the point when the Atlético man shot, there were no fewer than nine Levante players in their own box.

The home side continued to sit deep and frustrate Atlético whose few shots on target were saved by the superb Navas.

Diego Simeone was angry at the stoppage time of just three minutes, but it wouldn't have mattered as Levante managed to spend the last few minutes of the match near Courtois' goal - not what Simeone wanted at all.

The final whistle went and the home fans celebrated while the massive away support held their heads in their hands. There was a scuffle at the end between Atlético's Turan and Diop of Levante which saw a crowd of players and coaching staff - including Simeone - getting involved in the far corner of the pitch. No punches were thrown in the end and the players eventually headed for the tunnel.

Nonetheless, it was a devastating blow for the Champions League finalists, who may now need to win at the Camp Nou on the final day of the season if they are to break Real Madrid and Barcelona's decade-long dominance of the La Liga title. Time will tell if the Rojiblancos will come to regret this trip to the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia...


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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