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Atlético Madrid 1-0 RCD Espanyol: Atlético honor Gabi with slim win

A Griezmann spot kick was all Simeone’s side needed.

Club Atletico de Madrid v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

A powerful 55th minute Antoine Griezmann penalty accounted for Atlético Madrid’s scoring on Saturday evening as they saw out a tight win over skidding Espanyol.

Prior to the match, the Wanda Metropolitano’s south stand presented a tifo — “Capitán y Referencia” — for former skipper Gabi, who paid a visit to the capital to say one last goodbye to his boyhood club. Perhaps overshadowed by all the emotion, the opening 15 minutes were cagey, with just three shots between the two teams and all low-percentage chances coming from Espanyol. Neither side was able to grab a foothold in the match as possession was roughly even and play was concentrated near the halfway line. But on 16 minutes, Borja Iglesias called Jan Oblak into action when he tried to chip the keeper from forever away — luckily for the hosts, Oblak was up to the task and parried the ball over for a corner.

Atlético’s outfielders still couldn’t get out of first gear though, and Oblak was needed once more about 10 minutes later as he made a great diving stop on a Léo Baptistao volley. The Slovene saw the rebound graze the near post in a let-off for los colchoneros.

Espanyol seemed to be the fresher, more active team in the first half — which on its face should have not come as a surprise considering Atlético’s many missing players. But the visitors also seemed more engaged and happy to take up possession. Griezmann did force a good save from Diego López on a well-worked 44th minute move, but Atleti remained fortunate to enter the dressing room goalless.

The game changed truly in the 54th minute, when a crowd of Atlético players gathered in the box and Estaban Granero struck Koke across the leg. For the second week in row, Atlético won a penalty, which Griezmann deposited into the roof of the net to hand Atleti the lead.

Space became a bit more limited for the visitors as Atlético dug in, but ensuing set piece opportunities for Diego Simeone’s men went for nought due to persistent fouls in the box. Ángel Correa exited with under 20 minutes to go, when Simeone again utilized a new tactic — pushing Saúl up into midfield by bringing on a defender (Javi Montero). In previous years, Cholo would make this change to sew up a match — usually when it was at 1-0 — but when followed by Gelson Martins’ 77th minute entry, it amounted to an at least neutral and at best attacking change.

What followed was a relatively low-stress conclusion. Gelson got into space a couple times but couldn’t get a shot away with the chance to wrap up the three points. Granero had an 88th minute free kick in a good position, but Saúl cleared to end the threat and Atlético drew level with Barcelona atop LaLiga moments later.

ATM XI: Oblak; Arias, Savić, Godín, Saúl; Thomas P (Gelson 77’), Rodri, Correa (Montero 72’), Koke; Griezmann, Kalinić (Vitolo 65’).

Goals: Griezmann 56’ (pen)

ESP XI: Diego López; Rosales, David López, Naldo (Melendo 72’), Dídac (Pedrosa 82’); Duarte, Granero, Darder; Baptistao, García (Piatti 70’), Iglesias.

Goals: None