Atlético Madrid suffered, absorbed and made the most of opportunities in a 2-0 win at Málaga on Saturday night.
Atlético picked up right where it left off pre-international break - albeit with a much thinner squad. Koke opened the scoring inside half an hour with a simple tap-in before Filipe Luís closed it with an outstanding chip over Málaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni. The result moves Atleti into third place ahead of Sevilla’s match against Sporting Gijón on Sunday.
The international break was not too kind to Atlético, as Kévin Gameiro and Nico Gaitán sustained injuries during it that ruled them out of the trip to Andalusia. Šime Vrsaljko suffered a partial ACL tear before the break and José Giménez did not start due to groin discomfort. Yannick Carrasco was suspended after he picked up a fifth yellow card in the win over Sevilla.
Simeone picked a defensive XI as a result, as Gabi, Koke, Saúl Ñíguez and Thomas Partey made up the four-man midfield. Lucas Hernández and Stefan Savić were partnered in centra defense, while Fernando Torres partnered the white-hot Antoine Griezmann up top.
Atlético started with a fair amount of the ball and snuffed out a few Málaga counterattacks. The hosts had to make a change inside 15 minutes, as center back Miguel Torres got the worse of a collision with Savić and had to be replaced by Federico Ricca.
Ten minutes later, Koke fired a ball toward Torres at the edge of the area. El Niño took a dribble and tried to power his way through to goal, but lost the ball. However, the hard-charging Koke never stopped his run and his shot rolled behind Kameni and in to hand Atlético a 1-0 advantage. The goal was Koke’s fourth of the season and second in two weeks.
Málaga’s best chance before half time came via a Keko back heel, but the former canterano saw his attempt saved by Jan Oblak.
Simeone threw on Ángel Correa in place of Thomas Partey early in the second half, as Málaga began to boss possession and Atlético set up to strike on the counterattack. The hosts struggled to break down the visitors and resorted to hoofing long, high balls into the box, which Savić was able to deal with.
Another goal would come, but not to Málaga. Moments after Griezmann - playing higher up the pitch since Correa’s introduction - hit side netting from close range, he played to Filipe Luís to play to Torres, whose errant-dribble-turned-great-pass again set up an Atlético goal. Filipe scored his first of the season on a wonderful chip over Kameni.
Málaga came ever closer after falling behind 2-0, but Oblak was up to the task to stop both Sandro and Michael Santos. Still, Simeone threw on Diego Godín (for Griezmann) and José Giménez (for Filipe) in order to see out the result, which meant all four Atlético center backs were on the pitch for the final few minutes.
(It was exhilarating.)
In all, Málaga managed 63% possession and 21 shots, but a compact Atlético defense kept out the Boquerones and held on for the win.
The three points at La Rosaleda end the race for fourth - Atleti now are nine points clear of Real Sociedad and 10 ahead of Villarreal - and place pressure squarely on Sevilla to win Sunday. Los colchoneros are clicking, with four wins on the trot and points from 13 of the past 14 in LaLiga. Atleti haven’t lost away from the Vicente Calderón since December and return home to clash with Sociedad on Tuesday.