Atletico’s title hopes suffer blow with draw against Valencia

Atletico Madrid's midfielder Gabi vies with Valencia's defender Jose Gaya for the ball.

GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

A late headed goal from Shkodran Mustafi salvaged a 1-1 Primera Division draw for Valencia at the Vicente Calderon and further dented Atletico Madrid’s title hopes.

Koke’s piledriver had given the champions the lead in the first half but – with 12 minutes remaining – Germany defender Mustafi pounced on the rebound following a free-kick to hand a lifeline to Valencia, who had midfielder Javi Fuego dismissed in injury time for picking up two quick-fire bookings.

The draw means Atletico remain third in the La Liga table and one point above Sunday night’s opponents, but the Rojiblancos slip seven points behind new league leaders Barcelona.

Atletico had both center-back Miranda and top scorer Antoine Griezmann out suspended, so Fernando Torres made just his third league start since returning to the club, while Mario Mandzukic was again left out of Diego Simeone’s starting line-up, and Koke made his first start in a month after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Valencia meanwhile were boosted as Nicolas Otamendi made a speedy recovery from an ankle injury sustained in last week’s win over Real Sociedad.

This was an intense game contested mostly in midfield, with neither side creating many chances. Indeed, both sides scored with their first attempts of target, of which there were a total of just five over the 90 minutes.

Alvaro Negredo came close to giving the visitors an early lead when he attempted an overhead kick but could not connect properly with Jose Luis Gaya’s cross, and instead it was Koke who broke the deadlock a little after half an hour.

Torres brought down a long free-kick in the area and with the help of Tiago the ball fell to Koke, who drilled it into the bottom corner, scoring his first league goal since September.

LA LIGA RESULTS

The second half was a similarly scrappy affair, but Tiago should have put the result beyond doubt in the 71st minute.

Gabi sent in an in-swinging corner towards the far post and Diego Godin headed it into the midfielder’s path in the six-yard box, but the former Chelsea man somehow sent it onto the crossbar.

And seven minutes later, Valencia drew level from an unlikely source. Dani Parejo stood over a free-kick 40 yards from goal and looked set to float in a cross, but, whether he intended it or not, his delivery ended up striking the crossbar and bounced back into the six-yard box, where Mustafi rose to head into the empty net.

Neither side did enough to get a winner in the final minutes, although Fuego capped a feisty affair by picking up two yellow cards in just over two minutes and was sent down the tunnel moments before the final whistle.