BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both slipped up in the Spanish league on Sunday to tighten a compelling title race even further.
Atletico’s march toward its first title since 1996 hit a bump when it lost 2-0 at Levante, although its city rival failed to make up much ground as Madrid needed a spectacular injury-time equalizer from Cristiano Ronaldo to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against Valencia.
Atletico would still be guaranteed the title if it wins its last two games, as it leads Barcelona by three points with two games left for each team. They play each other in the final round at Camp Nou.
Barcelona had written off its title defense after drawing 2-2 with Getafe on Saturday, but the race is now wide open again.
”Now the league is that much more interesting,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said after his team’s nine-round winning run came to a halt at Ciutat de Valencia stadium.
Levante pressed Atletico early and was rewarded when Papakouly Diop’s corner kick hit Atletico left back Filipe Luis in the chest. The ball bounced out of reach of scrambling goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before settling into the net in the seventh.
Atletico improved after bringing on substitutes Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez after halftime but conceded again when striker David Barral beat Courtois in the 69th.
Far from bemoaning the setback, Simeone said that defeat was ”the best thing that could happen” to his team to keep it focused on the run-in not only to the league title but also to the Champions League final with Madrid on May 24, a week after the league concludes.
”Three weeks of high intensity and emotion await us,” Simeone said. ”This is the ideal moment for my men, for my players. We have three finals ahead of us and we have to concentrate on the first of those against Malaga next Sunday.”
Four days after its commanding 3-1 victory at Chelsea to reach the final of the Champions League, Atletico was brought down by the modest Levante side that has outperformed expectations thanks to coach Joaquin Caparros’ defensive focus. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas again played a key role as Levante was left in the middle of the table, turning away Raul Garcia’s and Tobias Alderweireld’s goal-bound strikes in each half.
”We didn’t want to mess up a title for anyone, I hope they (Atletico) win it,” Barral said. ”We want to finish the league in the best fashion we can. Playing teams like Atletico or Barcelona is always motivating, we wanted to win it for ourselves.”