Atletico edges out Villarreal to hold top spot in La Liga
Atletico Madrid sweated out a 1-0 win over Villarreal without top scorer Diego Costa to stay top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Raul Garcia netted the only goal in the 14th minute and Atletico did well to deny Villarreal in the second half.
Atletico remained undefeated at its Vicente Calderon stadium through 17 league games this season. It provisionally opened a four-point advantage over Barcelona before the defending champions host last-place Real Betis later Saturday.
Real Madrid now trails by six points and visits Real Sociedad without injured forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Atletico hopes Diego Costa will recover from a right thigh injury for Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona after they drew 1-1 in the first leg.
Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said his team tired down the stretch after playing at Barcelona earlier this week.
”We are going ahead game by game,” Courtois said. ”From here on out we are going to suffer in each game because we are at the end of the season, but we have to keep going.”
With midfielders Arda Turan and Gabi Fernandez also unavailable, coach Diego Simeone entrusted David Villa and Raul Garcia to spearhead his attack.
And while Villa was ineffective before being substituted with half an hour to play, Garcia again proved his value to Atletico as a versatile attacking midfielder by pushing aside his marker to head in Jorge ”Koke” Resurreccion’s corner kick.
Atletico relinquished the ball after going in front but managed to continually foil Villarreal’s passing attack before it could muster a shot on goal.
Atletico now has six games left as it tries to claim its first league title since 1996.