MADRID – Atletico Madrid missed the chance to ensure they finish above Real Madrid for a second consecutive year on Saturday after slipping to a surprise 3-0 defeat by Espanyol.
Atletico needed only a point to guarantee second place in La Liga, with two games left to play, but Espanyol were deserving winners at the RCDE Stadium thanks to Diego Godin’s own-goal and two strikes from Borja Iglesias, the second a penalty.
“The first goal changed the game, the second one made us worse,” said Atleti coach Diego Simeone.
“Espanyol were deserving winners. They were better and they had more chances,” he added.
The result means Barcelona, already champions, can move 12 points clear at the top of the table by beating Celta Vigo later on Saturday.
Real Madrid face Villarreal on Sunday but a third-place finish seems inevitable for Zinedine Zidane’s side. To overtake their city rivals, Real will need to win all three of their remaining games and hope Atletico lose both of their last two.
Espanyol’s victory is unlikely therefore to prevent Atleti finishing as Madrid’s top club in La Liga for a third time in four years, fourth in six, but there was a lack of spark that has undermined Simeone’s team too often this season.
Just as concerning have been the defensive errors, which Espanyol exploited to the full. Godin slid the ball into his own net before Juanfran conceded a late penalty for a needless push. In between, Borja had nipped between Godin and Filipe Luis with ease.
Like at Real, changes are expected at Atletico this summer but, unlike their neighbours, not all of them are likely to be within their control.
Lucas Hernandez has already agreed to join Bayern Munich, while uncertainty hangs over the futures of Godin, Filipe, Juanfran, Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann.
Jan Oblak has signed a new contract until 2023 but with a release clause included, reportedly set at 120 million euros.
Alvaro Morata will hope to stay after enjoying a resurgence since joining on loan from Chelsea in January and he might have given Atletico an early lead against Espanyol but was unable to find the space from the angle.
Instead, Espanyol took the lead at the end of the first half and while Godin turned it into his own net, it was Adria Pedrosa who made it. His driving run down the wing left Atletico’s defence scrambling and his fired cross panicked Godin at the near post.
Atletico hardly troubled their opponents, who doubled their lead shortly before the hour, Borja latching onto Oscar Melendo’s pass before finishing impressively past Oblak.
Oblak saved shots from Sergi Darder and Borja but Espanyol finally added a third after Juanfran knocked over Javi Puado in the 89th minute. Borja beat Oblak with the penalty.
Earlier, Rayo Vallecano were thrashed 4-1 by Levante to leave them on the brink of relegation from the top flight.
Rayo are now six points adrift of safety and can only catch Celta Vigo, who need just a point from their remaining three matches to survive.AFP