Atlético Madrid visited their favourite opponents in La Liga and left with what they came for.
There isn’t a team in Spain that we have beaten at their ground more often than Espanyol, and with a narrow victory Atlético claimed their 25th victory over Espanyol in Barcelona to maintain their second place in the league table.
A solitary goal by Raúl García in the first half proved to be enough for the full three points, although his team did struggle without Radamel Falcao and, later on in the match, without Arda Turan. Atleti managed to hang on in the second half, and got the job done in the opening part of the game.
While Diego Costa was continuously offside, it was the trio of Arda, Raúl García and Koke behind him who did well to keep possession in the first half. They constantly changed positions and combined well with Filipe and Juanfran on both sides, as well as Mario in midfield, to control the game.
This led to few opportunities in the first half hour, although we came close when Raúl García headed over the bar.
Atlético opened the scoring in the 30th minute after a long spell of possession. Raúl García scored with a diving header to put Juanfran’s perfect cross behind goalkeeper Cristian Álvarez.
It was Raúl’s third goal in as many games, while Juanfran notched up assist number seven since the start of last season, which makes him the highest contributing defender after Dani Alves, reports Opta.
A few minutes later Espanyol had their first opportunity of the match, when Cristian Gómez got his shot off from outside the box. It was also the midfielder’s last action of the game, because he was immediately taken off as part of a tactical change as Espanyol tried to adapt to the prior goal.
At the other end Koke came close to scoring, but his attempt went off target.
Just after the break, when Espanyol had already made their second substitution by taking off the invisible Simão, Los Pericos got their best chance. João Miranda was caught off guard completely by Samuele Longo, who picked the ball off the defender but saw his shot stopped by Courtois.
After an hour of play Arda Turan signalled for a substitution, for a thigh injury he seemed to have picked up at the end of the first half. His replacement Cebolla Rodríguez almost rifled the ball in on his first touch, after another substitute, Gabi, wonderfully toe-poked the ball over the defence.
Espanyol played their defence further up the pitch and managed to push Atlético back for the last quarter of the match. Víctor Sánchez tried his luck with a shot from distance, but Thibaut Courtois again denied the home side.
With Koke and Arda replaced, Atlético were unable to hang on to the ball and they scarcely got off their own half. On the rare occasion that they did, Diego Costa nearly scored from a Gabi cross, but his shot was blocked by Raúl Rodríguez.
Stuani missed a big chance to equalise, as he failed to direct his header towards target. In the same minute Atleti broke out quickly and Cebolla’s low drive was saved by Álvarez with his feet.
Atleti just about managed to hang on and nearly doubled their lead in the added time, when Adrián was launched towards goal with a defender breathing down his neck. He managed to beat Álvarez, but had his shot saved by Héctor Moreno on the goal line. The Mexican appeared to have used his hand, but no penalty was given.
In the dying seconds Samuele Longo made both Espanyol and Atlético supporters jump from their seats. The young Italian literally came within inches of tying the match, as he headed just wide.
It was the last moment of a nervous second half, in which Atleti didn’t have control but did manage to keep a clean sheet – only their second in la Liga after six games. With the win we now reclaim the second spot in the league table, which Málaga had temporarily taken from us on Saturday.
Next week we host Los Boquerones at the Vicente Calderón in what will be another big test for Atlético.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Tiago, Mario; Raúl García, Arda (“60 Rodríguez), Koke (“55 Gabi); and Diego Costa (“82 Adrián).
Goals: 1-0 Raúl García (“30)