Real Betis 1-1 Atletico Madrid: Oblak on top form again as Simeone's men return to LaLiga summit

By Sports Desk April 11, 2021

Atletico Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga, though only by a point, as they drew 1-1 with Real Betis in a thrilling encounter.

Real Madrid leapfrogged their neighbours into top spot with Saturday's Clasico triumph over Barcelona, and in response Diego Simeone's Atletico made an ideal start against Betis on Sunday.

Yannick Carrasco scored their quickest goal of the season, timed at four minutes and 36 seconds. However, Cristian Tello struck back for European hopefuls Betis 15 minutes later, directing a wonderful volley into the bottom-right corner.

Chasing four home wins in a row for the first time since April 2018, Betis had the better of the second half, though Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak stood firm when called upon and his counterpart Claudio Bravo made a superb late stop from Angel Correa to preserve a deserved point.

An enthralling clash started full of promise. Joao Felix's delightful flick played in Correa, who beat the onrushing goalkeeper and squeezed a neat pass into Carrasco for a simple finish into an empty net.

Saul Niguez directed a close-range header straight at Bravo soon after, and Atleti were swiftly made to pay – Alex Moreno's cross brilliantly steered home by Tello.

Carrasco made a vital, goal-saving challenge on Emerson as half-time approached, and the Atleti scorer was in the thick of it again as he drilled into the side-netting from the resulting counter.

Having sustained a knock while on international duty with Portugal in March, Joao Felix was forced off injured here after a collision with Tello three minutes into the second half.

Atleti's frustration was almost compounded when Emerson met Nabil Fekir's cross, but Oblak was alert to the full-back's header.

Jose Gimenez made an outstanding block to deny Aitor Ruibal, but it was the ever-reliable Oblak who proved Atleti's saviour.

Diego Lainez seemed all set to strike at the culmination of a sweeping Betis move, yet Oblak made a stunning save low to his left as Atleti went back to the top of the pile – Bravo's stoppage-time efforts at the other end denying the visitors all three points.

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    Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane says his side will go until the final minute in the LaLiga title race after closing within two points of leaders Atletico Madrid on Thursday.

    Madrid won 4-1 away to Granada to keep the pressure on the leaders with games to go, while moving ahead of third-placed Barcelona who are a further two points back after their 3-3 draw at Levante earlier in the week.

    Atletico remain in the box seat to clinch their first LaLiga title since 2013-14, but Zidane's side remain in the hunt should there be any slip-ups.

    "We'll keep going; there are two games left and we'll go to the end, until the final minute, we'll give it our all," Zidane said post-game.

    Atletico's final two league games are at home to 11th-placed Osasuna and away to 18th-placed Valladolid, while Real go to ninth-placed Athletic Bilbao and host seventh-placed Villarreal on the final day.

    Madrid are unbeaten in their last 16 games in LaLiga (W11 D5), the best current unbeaten run in the competition. In addition, Los Blancos have equalled their best unbeaten run in a single league campaign under Zidane, achieved in 2016-17 (P16 W12 D4).

    Zidane was delighted with the win at Granada which loomed as a tricky assignment in the run home.

    "It's not just about the goals," the Frenchman said. "We played very well, defensively too.

    "We started the game very well, it was a complete performance. I say that because at 2-1 we didn't let our intensity drop, we scored again quickly and that shows our character.

    "Thibaut [Courtois] made two or three saves, as he has been doing lately, but it's all good. In general terms it was a good win against a decent side at a tough place to come, because Granada are a side who have had a fantastic year."

    Marvin was substituted at half-time after a hamstring issue, while Marcelo did not play due to a minor injury concern as Zidane fielded his youngest starting XI all season.

    "Marvin picked up a knock. I hope it's nothing serious but yes, he felt something in his hamstring," Zidane said.

    "Marcelo didn't play because of an injury and we didn't want to take any risks, as always. The injury is the reason why he didn't come with us."

  • Solskjaer worried about defence as Liverpool expose Man Utd set-piece frailties Solskjaer worried about defence as Liverpool expose Man Utd set-piece frailties

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he is concerned about Manchester United's defending, especially from set-pieces, after they were beaten at home by Liverpool.

    The Red Devils took the lead through a deflected Bruno Fernandes strike but went on to lose 4-2 at Old Trafford on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp's side boosted their Champions League hopes.

    Liverpool's equaliser came following a corner, Diogo Jota turning in a Nat Phillips effort, and they took the lead in first-half injury time when Roberto Firmino headed in Trent Alexander-Arnold's free-kick.

    Firmino got his second just after half-time from a rebound from a Dean Henderson save and, although United got a goal back through Marcus Rashford, Mohamed Salah struck a fourth with a late breakaway goal.

    United's defence rarely looked comfortable without captain Harry Maguire as they suffered a third defeat in eight days in all competitions, while they have now conceded 27 home goals in the league this season, the most in a single season since 1969-70.

    More worrying is their persistent fallibility from dead-ball situations. United have conceded 33 per cent of their league goals against in 2020-21 from set-pieces (14 out of 42, not including penalties), which is the highest ratio in the division.

    They also conceded from a last-minute corner against Milan in the Europa League last-16 first leg, while Manchester City's goals in their 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win at Old Trafford came from a free-kick and a poorly cleared corner.

    Manager Solskjaer would not criticise his players for the way they lost possession in the build-up to Liverpool's third, but those set-piece concerns are ones he wants to address.

    "The goals we conceded, set-plays, [it is] disappointing," said Solskjaer. "That is something we have to work on because we have conceded too many goals from it.

    "The third one, we want to play out, we have been good at playing out, we put pressure on them to play out and sometimes we've scored goals from it.

    "Today, unfortunately, the two or three mistakes that happened cost us a goal. But they tried to correct it by winning it back and then we lost it after winning it back.

    "Football would be really boring if no-one made a mistake. That is the whole idea of football. Of course, you try to eradicate them and work on them, but we have conceded too many goals and we could have avoided some of these and especially the timings of them.

    "We're going to use the next couple of days well, to recover physically and mentally, and then we have to prepare for Fulham and then Wolves and then the final. We should have more energy.

    "We should use this period well. More energy means a better press; a better press means less chances against.

    "We will work on it and brush up on a few details, pay attention to some details on the set plays and put the players in the frame of mind that these set-plays are vital in football. But we can do so much better and when we do that, we will improve."

    With Maguire set to miss their final league games against Fulham and Wolves, and with the captain a major doubt for the Europa League final on May 26, Solskjaer is looking for others to take on leadership roles.

    He said: "Harry has been amazing since he came to the club, he's been more or less ever-present, so of course, when a player is a leader, a captain, the status of him, his presence is missed.

    "But then we've got players who can come in and it's a chance for everyone to take on that little bit of leadership. We need to do that when he's gone.

    "You can hear him in the stands when he's not playing. He is important for us and someone else has to just take that responsibility now.

    "I'm sure that, in the next two games, we will be without him. Hopefully, we can get him in for the final but who knows? I don't know yet."

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