Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Samuel Lino struck late in the second half as the hosts recovered to beat Villarreal 3-1 in their LaLiga clash in the Spanish capital on Sunday.
Atletico are fourth on 28 points, two off Barcelona in third. Real Madrid are second with 32 behind surprise leaders Girona on 34. Atletico have a game in hand on their rivals.
Struggling Villarreal, who sacked manager Jose Rojo ‘Pacheta’ on Friday, took an early lead when Gerard Moreno netted a first-time strike on the rebound in the 20th minute.
The visitors then had a great chance to extend the advantage but Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak made a magnificent save to with his chest to block a close-range shot by Alexander Sorloth, who was forced off in the 36th minute with a leg injury.
But Atletico, the only LaLiga team to have won all their home games so far this season, slowly took control of possession and equalised in added time before the break with a close-range strike by defender Axel Witsel from a cross by Griezmann.
The French striker ran down the left and delivered a low cross that flew through a crowded penalty area to the far post where the unmarked Witsel lashed the ball into the top corner.
Atletico got back on top in the second half and had several more chances but had to wait until the 80th minute to take the lead when Griezmann fired home from close range after a superb first-time cross by substitute Pablo Barrios.
It was Griezmann’s eighth goal in 12 LaLiga matches this season, which leaves him two behind league-leading scorer Jude Bellingham of Real Madrid who has scored 10 goals in 11 games.
France captain Griezmann, who turns 33 in March, is arguably having one of the best seasons of his career, having scored 11 goals with four assists in all competitions this term.
Roared on at a sold-out Metropolitano, Atletico kept pushing forward and five minutes from time substitute Lino scored with a fine individual effort, securing the points with a tidy finish from inside the box after bursting through on the left.
“It was a difficult match for us. It could be fatigue and that’s why those on the bench have to come on like today – they made all the difference,” Griezmann told DAZN.
“We have been delivering at home thanks to our fans that have been amazing. It’s a source of pride, they push us. After 80 minutes we are dead and thanks to them we feel like giving more.”