Atletico Madrid defeats a depleted Real Madrid, as Sevilla holds off Villarreal
MADRID – Atletico Madrid won a La Liga derby against Real Madrid for the first time in six years on Sunday, and a 1-0 win is putting Diego Simeone's side on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League. At the Wanda Metropolitano, Yannick Carrasco's first-half penalty was enough against a depleted Real Madrid, who used the opportunity to rest after their epic Champions League comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday. Atletico Madrid took advantage of having Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, and Thibaut Courtois on the bench for the already-crowned champions, even if they wasted a run of changes that made the game considerably more difficult than it needed to be.
Atletico Madrid sits in fourth place, six points ahead of Real Betis in fifth with three games remaining. Their superior head-to-head record over Betis ensures that they will finish in the top four if Betis fails to win away at Valencia on Tuesday. Betis defeats Valencia, and Atletico can clinch their place by beating Elche away on Wednesday. Sevilla's spot appears to be all but secure after a 1-1 draw at Villarreal earlier on Sunday, giving them a seven-point lead over Betis. Atletico has not beaten Real Madrid in La Liga since 2016 and not at home since 2015, with two goals and no victory in their last eight games against their city rivals in all competitions. Ending that streak would undoubtedly offer relief to Atletico's supporters and players. Still, the bigger relief will be Champions League qualifying, which has been in doubt for the duration of what has been an erratic and dismal season. Carlo Ancelotti made a slew of changes to his starting lineup, with only Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Eder Militao remaining from the team that stunned Manchester City.
It meant that Luka Jovic up forward, Eduardo Camavinga in midfield, and Jesus Vallejo at the rear all got rare starts, while Ukrainian AndriyLunin made his first league appearance of the season in goal. Lunin did nothing wrong, but no one stood out, with Camavinga struggling and Jovic coming in in the second half. After a sloppy pass from Camavinga allowed Geoffrey Kondogbia to rob Kroos, Angel Correa sent an early attempt wide before Carrasco wove through but flashed wide.
The opening goal came from another botched pass from Marco Asensio in midfield, and Matheus Cunha was squeezed out between Vallejo and Militao as he drove down on goal.
Atletico demanded a penalty, and while the referee first dismissed the requests, he changed his mind after viewing the replay, with Vallejo found guilty. Carrasco landed a powerful spot-kick. Jovic's lone contribution was to hit Jan Oblak when the ball leaked out to him after Rodrygo sprinted in behind. Carrasco blasted over after Nacho Fernandez gave the ball away, and another Camavinga blunder gave Cunha an opportunity, but his effort was saved.
Without the second goal, the tension built, and as each new opportunity passed by, there was a growing fear that Real Madrid would take advantage. The visitors brought on Vinicius Junior, Modric, and Fede Valverde. Still, the trend continued as Antoine Griezmann dragged wide, and then Carrasco broke through, only to shave the outside of the post.
Valverde and Vinicius both put Oblak to the test in the final ten minutes, with the latter having to send Asensio's fizzing free-kick wide of the post. Nacho headed over Vinicius' cross from six yards out, but Atletico held on. Sevilla moved closer to finishing in the top four of La Liga after Jules Kounde's 96th-minute equalizer rescued a 1-1 draw at Villarreal. Villarreal believed they had won it at La Ceramica when Giovani Lo Celso scored with four minutes remaining. Still, Sevilla struck a thrilling equalizer to strengthen their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season. After reaching the Champions League semi-finals, Villarreal is making a late push for next season's Europa League, but Kounde's goal puts them three points behind Real Sociedad in sixth.