Atletico Madrid topple Rayo Vallecano behind Antoine Griezmann brace
Atletico Madrid kept pace with their rivals at the top of the Primera Division as they brushed aside neighbors Rayo Vallecano 3-1 on Saturday evening.
Antoine Griezmann scored a brace – and somehow missed out on a hat-trick despite a string of second-half chances – and, although Roberto Trashorras pulled one back before half-time, an own goal from Alberto Manucho put Atletico back in firm control early in the second half.
After wins earlier in the day for Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico could not afford a slip against a Rayo side who arrived having won five of their 10 away games in the league this season.
But instead the champions found their local rivals in generous form, with Rayo’s defense lending a helping hand all night. There were warning signs for the visitors in only the second minute when Mario Mandzukic was afforded a free header from Gabi’s free-kick, nodding wide when he should have really scored.
Instead, Atletico waited until the 12th minute to take the lead, with Griezmann seizing on a terrible touch from Jose Ze Castro and racing towards goal to slot the ball past Antonio Tono.
Rayo were just as generous in allowing the Frenchman to score his second 10 minutes later. Mandzukic won a flick-on from a long ball, and with Rayo’s back three in no sort of order whatsoever Griezmann broke clear and poked it past Tono.
It was his 10th league goal of the season, and 15th in 31 appearances, 18 of them starts, for Atletico.
Rayo undeservedly pulled one back 10 minutes before half-time. Another defensive mistake gifted them possession, but that should take nothing away from Trashorras’ delightful curling finish from inside the D.
Griezmann went close to his first Atletico hat-trick early in the second half, catching Tono out of position with a mis-hit cross that almost found the net.
Tono then did well to punch clear a dangerous ball from Arda Turan, but could do nothing about Atletico’s third in the 55th minute when Griezmann’s corner struck Manucho on the thigh and flew into the net.
Griezmann had another chance for his hat-trick seconds later with the defence again all at sea, but he sent his shot wide from a narrow angle.
With a little over 10 minutes remaining, Raul Baena had the chance to set up a tense finish but fluffed his lines from close range and instead the question was whether or not Griezmann could find the elusive third goal.
With three minutes remaining he broke clear once more, but his shot struck the upright and he had to settle for two, with Fernando Torres also blowing a great chance to add to the score in stoppage time.