BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Atletico Madrid substitute Luciano Vietto scored a late goal to snatch a 1-1 draw against crosstown rival Real Madrid on Sunday, denying Rafa Benitez’s side the chance to reclaim the Spanish league lead.
Karim Benzema gave Madrid a great start with his league-leading sixth goal to quiet the Vicente Calderon crowd just nine minutes into the match, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas protected that advantage by saving Antoine Griezmann’s penalty in the 22nd minute.
But as Madrid settled for defending instead of seeking a second goal to seal the win, Atletico pushed forward and Vietto poked in a cross from fellow substitute Jackson Martinez that the goalie couldn’t handle in the 83rd.
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”We had the win in our hands,” Navas said. ”This isn’t the result we wanted, but it’s a point and we have to value it. We committed a mistake and in these games errors are paid for dearly.”
Still unbeaten, Madrid squandered the opportunity to overtake Villarreal at the top of the standings after the leader lost 1-0 at Levante earlier.
Madrid was left one point behind in second place, level on points with Celta Vigo in third and Barcelona in fourth after the defending champions’ 2-1 loss at Sevilla on Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico remained in fifth place, three points off Vilarreal’s pace.
”We snatched a point, and tried to get the win, but it wasn’t to be,” the 21-year-old Vietto said after his first goal for Atletico since transferring from Villareal following his breakout last season.
Benzema continues to be Madrid’s most consistent scorer this league campaign as star forward Cristiano Ronaldo had a subdued showing.
Benzema put Madrid in charge by finding space among four Atletico defenders to head in Dani Carvajal’s cross, after the right back had dribbled past Filipe Luis on the right flank.
Atletico tried to respond through forward Angel Correa, who went close twice, before Sergio Ramos fouled Tiago Mendes in the area.
But Navas judged Griezmann’s intention and parried the shot sent to the goalie’s left side.
Simeone sent on winger Yannick Carrasco at halftime, and Atletico improved going forward after Vietto followed in the 58th and Jackson in the 64th.
Madrid forward Gareth Bale returned from a four-game injury absence as a substitute in the 66th, but Benitez took off Benzema for midfielder Mateo Kovacic with 13 minutes to go in a clear effort to hold on to the slim lead.
The defensive reinforcement wasn’t enough, however, as Jackson dribbled past Arbelao to the end-line where he placed a cross that Griezmann touched with this heel, squirming the ball off Navas’s arm to Vietto, who only had to turn it into the net.
Jackson almost grabbed a stoppage-time winner but instead drew a superb save from Navas with a curling strike.
”We finished with a goal and a great save by their goalie,” said Simeone. ”The sensation is that we lost two points because we were closer than they were to the win as far as scoring chances go.”
In a meeting of the best and worst sides in the league heading into the seventh round, Levante imposed its defense on Villarreal and limited the pacesetters to a single shot on goal.
Villarreal defender Bojan Jokic was sent off in the 36th with a second booking after a low, ankle-level tackle floored Ivan Lopez, who went down hard was carried off on a stretcher.
Villarreal, however, was on course to salvage a point until striker Deyverson scored an acrobatic volley to drive home Nabil Ghilas’ cross with seven minutes left, pulling the team out of last place.
Elsewhere, striker Aritz Aduriz set up Athletic Bilbao’s second goal and added another to seal the Basque side’s 3-1 win at home over Valencia.
Bilbao’s second win of the campaign lifted it into 13th place, while Valencia fell to ninth place behind Real Betis after its 2-0 win at Rayo Vallecano thanks to Ruben Castro’s goal and assist.