Ángel Correa came off the bench to score his fifth La Liga goal as Atlético Madrid overcame controversy and a typically rugged Málaga to secure three big points on Saturday.
Javi Gracia's charges were their usual irritating selves throughout the first half, picking up two yellow cards and frustrating an Atlético attack that had been sizzling of late. Antoine Griezmann missed a point-blank chance for the hosts and Koke hit a free kick inches over Memo Ochoa's goal. However, those misses paled in comparison to the shenanigans that occurred at the end of the half.
Málaga were pushing forward on a rare counterattack with little time to spare. Atlético were not ready for the pace with which the Andalusians broke and may have conceded...if an extra ball had not been launched onto the pitch. Interestingly, this was not the first time a spare ball had made its way onto the playing surface in the first half. But in this instance, the presence of said extra ball caused mass confusion, hysteria and the end of Málaga's counterattack. Diego Simeone was sent off even though a ball boy was responsible for the incident, but alternate camera angles showed Simeone motioning to the ball boy an instant before the ball was thrown.
(My opinion: that's pretty damning. And unsporting, although Málaga are one of the few teams that deserve that treatment. Cholo will probably be suspended. But he gets full marks for creativity and we love him anyway.)
Space began to open up in the second half as Saúl Ñíguez dragged a shot wide (half the ground thought it was in) shortly before Correa's entrance. The Argentine, on for Yannick Carrasco - who had a pretty good glimpse of goal himself prior to half - hit a right-footed attempt from outside the box on 62 minutes that took a big deflection and bounced just past Ochoa. Correa could have added to his tally later on and Augusto Fernández and Fernando Torres had chances to extend the lead too. But in the end, Atleti hung on for the win and three more precious points.
This result took Atlético to the top of the table...for about two hours. Barcelona smashed Sporting Gijón by a 6-0 scoreline at Camp Nou, and Real Madrid's 3-2 comeback over Rayo Vallecano earlier in the day ensured that the top three would end Round 35 in the same places they started. Barça and Atleti are level on 82 points while Real Madrid sit in third on 81 points.
Next up: Bayern Munich at the Calderón on Wednesday.