Atlético Madrid shrugged off early controversy and dropped the hammer in the second half to see off a weakened Athletic Bilbao at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday afternoon.
Kévin Gameiro and Diego Costa notched second-half goals as Atlético ran out worthy winners against an Athletic side missing influential attackers Aritz Aduriz and Raúl García through suspension. Diego Simeone’s men saw two stonewall penalty shouts go unheeded in the first half — they still haven’t been awarded one in league play this season — but wore down los leones and won easily enough in the end.
Atlético were happy to have the ball and Athletic were probably happier to let them have it as the match got underway. It was a contest of few chances, the best in the first half hour being José Giménez’s attempted volley from an Antoine Griezmann free kick. There was controversy, too — Costa should have been awarded a penalty on 18 minutes when he was tackled without the ball in the box by Unai Núñez, but referee González González saw nothing wrong with the challenge. And moments before halftime, Giménez was pushed over in the box by Enric Saborit while anticipating an Atlético corner, but the referee was again unmoved (or unable to see). Costa, at least, got his money’s worth eventually though, as he saw a yellow card for protesting late in the first half.
Simeone had to make his first change at halftime, as Lucas Hernández could not continue after injuring himself challenging an Iñaki Williams shot. Atlético seemed energized nonetheless as the second half got underway, as Costa challenged Kepa Arrizabalaga with a fierce volley and a mishit header with just minutes apart.
But it wasn’t until Gameiro sauntered in on the hour that Atleti’s touch of pressure turned into a wave. The Frenchman scored his second goal in his many games on 67 minutes, as he took up a pass on the counter from Griezmann and left Kepa no chance to stop his right-footed effort. It was Saúl Ñíguez who stepped up to make the vital interception which started the counterattack.
Athletic offered little in the way of a response to Gameiro’s strike and Atlético found a second goal less than 15 minutes later. Núñez — who had done a really good job on Costa throughout the afternoon — tried to cut out a long Gameiro pass and whiffed, leaving Costa all alone and with only Kepa to beat. The Spaniard did just that, duly depositing his first league goal since Jan. 6 to kill off the game.
Los colchoneros kept up with Barcelona — they’re still seven points behind the Catalans — and maintained a nine-point cushion over third-place Valencia. Jan Oblak faced zero shots on target and kept his 16th clean sheet in 24 games this season, while Griezmann continued his scintillating run of form — he’s scored or assisted a goal in five of the past six in LaLiga.
Atlético: Oblak; Vrsaljko, Giménez, Lucas (Godín, 46’), Filipe Luís; Thomas, Saúl, Correa (Gabi, 69’), Koke (Gameiro, 59’); Griezmann, Costa.
Goals: Gameiro 67’, Costa 80’.
Athletic: Arrizabalaga; Lekue, Núñez, Iñigo, Saborit; San José; Susaeta, Beñat (Iturraspe, 64’), Vesga (Córdoba, 72’), Merino (De Marcos, 68’); Williams.