Atlético Madrid appear to be sputtering toward LaLiga’s finish line, a sentiment only reinforced by Sunday’s drab 0-0 draw versus Real Betis.
While Atlético did move four points clear of Real Madrid with the result, the latter still have a game in hand due to Saturday’s Copa del Rey final (Sevilla would have been their opponent in round 34). There were few chances either way, with a Saúl Ñíguez effort off the crossbar the best one over the 90 minutes. On a more positive note, this result means Barcelona cannot clinch LaLiga until next weekend and Atleti are now just two games from completing an unbeaten season at home in the league.
Diego Simeone elected to make several changes to his XI, ostensibly with one eye on Thursday’s Europa League semifinal first leg at Arsenal. José Giménez replaced Diego Godín and made his first appearance for nearly a month following an ankle injury. Vitolo returned to the team to offer width and afford Koke some rest, while the French tandem of Kévin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann made way for Ángel Correa and Fernando Torres.
As expected, Betis took up the ball in the first half and would not let it go easily — the visitors rang up 65% possession and Atlético seemed content to sit back and wait for an opportunity. One such chance came on 24 minutes, when Juanfran sent in super cross to Torres. El Niño looked like he had successfully chipped Dani Giménez and put Atleti ahead, but Aïssa Mandi came out of nowhere and headed the ball off the line. Quique Setién’s men would get chances of their own in stoppage time — which lasted three minutes after Dani departed with a hamstring injury — when Ryad Boudebouz forced a save out of Jan Oblak and Giménez gifted the ball to Javi García. The ex-Real Madrid midfielder scuffed the ensuing chance.
Vitolo nearly opened the scoring right after halftime, but his volley from an Ángel Correa skittered well wide of goal. Cristian Tello had a chance — gifted to him by another Giménez error — clang off the outside of the post before Saúl hit the game’s best chance flush off the crossbar. It looked for a split second as if a Saúlazo would send the supporters home happy, but the ball just missed rippling the net by inches.
Few really good passages of play presented themselves from that point on, and a scuffle between Koke and Joel Campbell saw several players booked: Campbell, Jordi Amat, Giménez and Gabi.
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran (Vrsaljko 65’), Savić, Giménez, Lucas; Thomas, Gabi, Vitolo (Koke 63’), Saúl; Correa (Griezmann 63’), Torres.
Real Betis: Dani (Pedro 38’); Mandi, Bartra, Amat; Barragán, Fabián, Javi Garcia, Junior; Boudebouz (Joaquín 64’), Tello (Campbell 82’); Loren.