Atletico’s advantage weakened Real Madrid, Sevilla brought Villarreal back

Atletico Madrid won a La Liga derby against Real Madrid for the first time in six years on Sunday when a 1-0 win left Diego Simeone’s side at the height of qualifying for the Champions League.

Yannick Carrasco’s first-half penalty proved sufficient at the Wanda Metropolitano against a severely weakened Real Madrid, who took the opportunity to turn after an incredible Champions League comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday.

With Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Thibaut Courtois among those on the bench for the already crowned champions, Atletico took advantage, even if they missed a series of occasions that made the match much more uncomfortable than it should have.

Atletico are fourth, six points clear of Real Betis in fifth, with three games to play. Their best head-to-head record at Betis means they will be guaranteed to finish in the top four if Betis fail to win at Valencia on Tuesday.

If Betis beat Valencia, Atletico can secure their place by winning at Elche on Wednesday.

“It is very important to qualify and we have to get another victory in three games to get it,” said the captain of Atletico Koke. “If we work like this, we’ll get there.”

Sevilla’s spot also looks almost sealed after a 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Sunday gave them a seven-point lead over Betis.

Atletico haven’t beaten Real Madrid in La Liga since 2016 and not at home since 2015, while their last eight games in all competitions against city rivals had resulted in two goals and no victory.

Ending that series will certainly bring a lot of satisfaction to Atletico fans and players, but the biggest relief will be qualification to the Champions League, which has been in doubt throughout what has been an inconsistent and disappointing campaign.

Carlo Ancelotti has made a series of changes to his starting line-up as only Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Eder Militao remain of the team that won the resounding victory over City.

It meant rare starts for the likes of Luka Jovic in attack, Eduardo Camavinga in midfield and Jesus Vallejo in defense, while Ukrainian Andriy Lunin made his first league appearance of the season in goal.

Lunin makes no mistake but no one stands out, with Camavinga out of the game and Jovic replaced in the second half.

“We rested some players, we avoided problems and we gave minutes to those who had fewer,” said Ancelotti. “It will be like this for the next matches”.

Atletico’s increased intensity showed in the first half when Angel Correa brought an early shot wide after a poor pass from Camavinga allowed Geoffrey Kondogbia to rob Kroos before Carrasco intertwined but threw wide.

The goal came from another out of place pass, this time from Marco Asensio in midfield, and when Matheus Cunha crashed into the goal, he was crushed between Vallejo and Militao.

Atletico wanted a penalty and while the referee initially dismissed the appeals, he changed his mind after consulting the replay, with Vallejo found guilty. Carrasco hits the spot.

Kroos shot wide and then Jovic’s only contribution was to hit Jan Oblak when the ball landed on him after Rodrygo ran after him.

Without the second goal, the tension grew and as each new opportunity went begging, the feeling that Real Madrid could capitalize increased.

Carrasco kicks high after Nacho Fernandez gave the ball away and then another mistake by Camavinga gave Cunha a chance but his shot was saved.

Vinicius Junior, Modric and Fede Valverde all entered the field for the visitors, but the pattern continued as Antoine Griezmann shuffled to the side and then Carrasco broke through, only to shave the outside of the post.

In the last 10 minutes Valverde and Vinicius put Oblak to the test, who then had to push Asensio’s sparkling free-kick off the post. Nacho headed Vinicius’s cross from six yards but Atletico held firm.

Sevilla also took a step forward to finish in the top four of La Liga after Jules Kounde’s 96th-minute equalizer tore a 1-1 draw at Villarreal.

Villarreal thought they had won it at La Ceramica when Giovani Lo Celso scored with four minutes left in regulation time, but Sevilla scored a dramatic draw to boost their hopes of securing Champions League qualification next season.

After a superb run to the Champions League semi-finals, Villarreal are pushing late for next season’s Europa League, but Kounde’s goal means they are within three points of Real Sociedad in sixth place.