Atletico Madrid knocked Barcelona off the top of La Liga for a day at least, as a second-half strike by Koke earned los Colchoneros a 1-0 victory over a stubborn Malaga side on Saturday.
With Barcelona only restarting their season yesterday after the Christmas interlude, Atletico took the advantage to move three points clear in the tables, although it was hard work for the visitors.
Atletico lacked a cutting edge against a well-marshaled Malaga defense, with the league’s top scorer Diego Costa having a subdued match in a misfiring attack.
It was Koke who finally made the breakthrough, slotting the ball home after goalkeeper Willy Caballeros saved an Adrian Lopez effort following good work by Costa.
“Malaga were happy for us to have the ball and play on the counterattack. They were strong at the back,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone told a news conference.
“We were finding it difficult to create openings, but in the end we managed it through a team effort,” he added. “We continue to go match by match and expect Barcelona to win tomorrow [yesterday] and go back to the top. It would be so much nicer to be in this position at the end of the season, but there’s a long journey ahead.”
Atletico now have 49 points from 18 games, although Barcelona would return to the top if they won at home against Elche.
The only bad news for the Madrid side was that Juanfran picked up a booking and will be suspended for this week’s top-of-the-table clash with their Catalan rivals.
Real Madrid, who are eight points adrift, are to face RC Celta de Vigo today.
Elsewhere in the league, Valencia made a winning start under new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi with Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli scoring in a 2-0 victory over local rivals Levante UD that lifted them up to eighth place on 23 points.
They almost made the perfect start to the game with a Feghouli strike, but it was blocked by Keylor Navas in the opening minutes.
Piatti pounced on a loose ball to open the scoring before halftime and Feghouli’s clinical finish wrapped up the points with less than 20 minutes remaining.
In the day’s other matches, bottom club Real Betis Balompie held Real Valladolid to a 0-0 draw and UD Almeria downed Granada 3-0.