Joao Miranda scored what proved to be the winner as Atletico Madrid grinded out a 1-0 victory over Almeria in trademark style at Juegos Mediterraneos.
The centre-half popped up on the hour-mark to power home a header from Koke’s corner, and maintain his side’s unbeaten start to the La Liga season.
Atleti are now third in the table and just two points behind Barcelona and Sevilla, who they face in their biggest game of their campaign so far at Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s men had not won either of their last two after their shock defeat at Olympiacos in the UEFA Champions League before being held by Celta Vigo at the weekend.
He made three changes from that draw as Raul Garcia returned to the side ahead of Raul Jimenez up front, while Mario Suarez replaced Gabi in the centre of midfield and Guilherme Siqueira came in for Patrick Ansaldi at left-back.
Francisco Rodriguez also made a trio of alterations to the hosts from their 2-1 win at Real Sociedad last weekend. Atletico loanee Thomas Partey was ineligible and Fran Velez took his place in the centre of midfield, Mane replaced Sebastian Dubarbier at left-back and Wellington Silva came in for Edgar Mendez.
The defending champions came unstuck here last season and briefly relinquished top spot in the process, but they were soon on top from the start of this encounter. Almeria had goalkeeper Ruben to thank early on as he brilliantly blocked Diego Godin’s powerful downward header from Koke’s corner.
He then leapt sharply to his right midway through the half to keep out Garcia’s goal-bound volley from Siqueira’s cross. Tiago Mendes was next to test the keeper with a snap shot on the half-hour mark that was well beaten away to safety, before a good move from Atletico saw him keep out another effort from Garcia before the break.
There was nothing Ruben could do 15 minutes into the second half though. Atletico are so dangerous from set-pieces and they proved that once again, as Koke’s out-swinging corner was met at the near post by top league scorer Miranda who powered home a header for his third goal of the season already.
It was more about when Los Rojiblancos would kill the game off from there rather than Almeria getting an equaliser, and Arda Turan raced away from Mauro Dos Santos down the left and cut into the area before he was well denied again by Ruben.
Substitute Alessio Cerci had the last chance of the contest in stoppage time when he played a one-two with Gabi, but the keeper was once again on hand to keep out both of his weak efforts.
It didn’t matter though as Atleti held on for the three points. They will now want to carry on the momentum going against Sevilla on Saturday, and keep the pressure on Barca.