Antoine Griezmann scored in the first minute on Saturday afternoon — and if you were expecting more from Atlético Madrid’s trip to Andalusia, you were likely disappointed at what followed.
Griezmann’s goal was the only one of the match, as Atlético saw out a victory over relegation-threatened Málaga at La Rosaleda. In the end it was comfortable against the league’s lowest-scoring side, even if Atleti could be accused of lacking functionality and spark.
Diego Simeone chose to hand Vitolo his first league start since he joined Atlético last month — and he also welcomed back Filipe Luís, who had not played in 2018 due to injuries. Down to the bare bones at center back, the boss was hoping José Giménez and Lucas Hernández would have little to do so as to avoid injuries of their own.
Inside 40 seconds, a Šime Vrsaljko throw in was headed out of the 18-yard box, but Saúl Ñíguez was positioned perfectly to laser the ball back into the box — aided by a deflection — for a waiting Griezmann. The Frenchman stayed onside and calmly chipped keeper Roberto for his eighth goal of the season. Griezmann is responsible for Atlético’s last three first half goals: against Girona and Málaga in LaLiga and against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey — and to celebrate this one, he held up a shirt honoring Nacho Barberà, a teenaged footballer for who died last week after suffering a heart attack while playing for Valencia-based UD Alzira.
The rest of the first half was relatively humdrum, with more fouls than chances (Vitolo alone committed five fouls). Málaga looked most dangerous from set pieces — Brown Ideye saw a header glance wide on about 15 minutes, but the hosts offered little else and Atlético sailed into halftime.
In the second half, Simeone issued a challenge that José González’s Málaga simply could not answer: attack. Atlético at one point had less than 50 percent possession against LaLiga’s bottom side, but Málaga were very disjointed and disconnected in open play. Jan Oblak made a super save on a Roberto Rosales free kick shortly after the restart and stopped a Federico Ricca header from finding the net with about 12 minutes remaining. Atleti, meanwhile, did not register a single shot in the second half — even when afforded seven minutes of stoppage time after Mehdi Lacen had to be stretchered off after an aerial collision with Fernando Torres.
The 1-0 win was Atlético’s fifth such result from their past six wins away in LaLiga. While not pretty by any means, it means the mattress makers are six points back of leaders Barcelona, who host Getafe on Sunday. Atleti pushed their advantage over Valencia to 12 points (they play Levante on Sunday) and a whopping 13 over Real Madrid (welcoming Real Sociedad to the Bernabéu on Saturday night).
Atlético: Oblak; Vrsaljko, Giménez, Lucas, Filipe Luís; Gabi (Thomas, 69’), Saúl, Koke, Vitolo (Correa, 52’); Griezmann, Costa (Torres, 77’)
Goals: Griezmann 1’
Málaga: Roberto Jiménez; Rosales, Hernández, Miquel, Ricca (Samu, 83’); Keko (Rolan, 57’), Iturra (Lacen, 46’), González, Castro; Ideye, En-Nesyri.