Antoine Griezmann headed in two more goals to lead Atletico Madrid to a 3-1 win over Levante, as the defending champions pulled to within one point of the Spanish league lead on Saturday.
The Frenchman had hit a hat-trick at Athletic Bilbao just before the winter break and scored two headers either side of half-time to put the champions in command at the Vicente Calderon.
Substitute Nabil El Zhar gave the visitors brief hope of getting back into the game with a close-range effort just after the hour mark but Diego Godin scored Atletico’s third header of the afternoon to ensure the three points remained in the capital and keep the pressure on title rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, who play on Sunday.
Article continues below ...
Returning local hero Fernando Torres was in the Calderon after securing a loan move from AC Milan but had to watch from the stands as he is not permitted to play for Atletico until the Italian transfer window opens on Monday.
Torres could debut in his return to his boyhood club on Wednesday when Atletico hosts Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Diego Simeone’s side then faces a trip to Barcelona’s Camp Nou in the league next weekend.
”Fernando is a player from this house that creates a lot of excitement,” said Godin. ”He has come to do his part and you can see he wants to do well.
”This (win) will help us face a hard week of important matches.”
Instead, it was another blonde-headed forward who lead Atletico’s attack. Eighteen minutes were on the clock when left-back Guilherme Siquiera charged down the left wing and sent in a high cross for Griezmann to leap above the line of Levante defenders and nod over goalkeeper Diego Marino into the net.
Atletico were well worthy of their lead – Arda Turan had earlier had a goal ruled out for offside and Mario Mandzukic had headed just wide.
Diego Simeone’s side continued to dominate in what remained of the first half but could not get a second, although Mandzukic and Juanfran both came close. Atletico did get the all important second goal right at the start of the second period.
Juanfran crossed for Mandzukic to head towards the far bottom corner but Marino clawed the ball away just as it was about to cross the line. However, Levante failed to clear and the ball bounced up perfectly for Griezmann to head across the line from six yards out.
Atletico nearly added a third 10 minutes into the second half. Again Juanfran found space down the right and swung in a cross towards the back post, before Mandzukic and Griezmann combined to tee up Tiago, but his shot struck the outside of the near post.
With half an hour remaining Levante forged a way back into the game. Victor Casadesus headed a corner towards goal but it was scraped off the line by Mandzukic. However, Atletico had failed to readjust when Ivan Lopez sent the ball back into the box and substitute El Zhar stuck out a foot to divert it into the bottom corner.
The visitors then had Atletico on the back foot for a 20-minute spell but could struggled to break them down, and with eight minutes remaining Godin put the result beyond doubt. Tiago collected a short corner and swung the ball into the area for the Uruguayan defender to head home.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.