Joao Felix rescued a point for Atletico Madrid in a 1-1 draw against Espanyol, as Diego Simeone was jeered by a section of the home fans.
Atletico started in third and at best could have cut their deficit on Real Madrid, with a game in hand, to six points.
Simeone is under pressure after his team’s exit from the Champions League, with fans staying away from one end in order to arrive late, and in silence, in protest.
The display on the pitch was disjointed, with Antoine Griezmann providing the best attempts but not converting.
A glimmer of hope was offered midway through the first half when Leandro Cabrera saw red for blocking Alvaro Morata as he dashed in on goal, but Atletico continued to struggle.
In the second half, Espanyol went ahead just after the hour mark when Joselu teed up Sergi Darder to finish at the back post.
Simeone introduced Felix, Thomas Lemar and Matheus Cunha to chase the game, and the Portuguese striker fired in a vicious shot to put his side level with a little over 10 minutes remaining, with the youngster choosing not to celebrate amid rumours of a spat with his manager.
TALKING POINT – DIEGO SIMEONE IS UNDER PRESSURE
Joao Felix is a player that often sits at odds with Simeone’s requirements of discipline, hard work and defensive commitment. The problem is, he’s the club’s best player and in the few minutes he was on the pitch, he almost won the game after his equaliser.
Felix and Simeone might not see eye to eye, but Atletico offer a foundation for Felix to thrive, if he can help out and if his manager gives him licence to operate with a little more freedom.
Atletico are third, yes, but fans and at least one player are clearly frustrated. It is time that they use the mid-season break to put things right, at least for the rest of the campaign.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – VINICUS SOUZA (ESPANYOL)
On loan from Lommel, if the 28-year-old Brazilian keeps up such hardworking displays and is as committed to the team, then his current club should hope to tie up a permanent deal as soon as possible.
Atletico: Oblak 6, Reinaldo 6, Gimenez 6, Savic 6, Molina 6, Kondogbia 6, De Paul 5, Carrasco 6, Llorente 6, Griezmann 5, Morata 5. Subs: Witsel 6, Lemar 6, Felix 7, Cunha 6, Correa 7.
Espanyol: Lecomte 6, Gil 6, Cabrera 5, Calero 6, Bare 6, Joselu 7, Darder 7, Vini Zouza 7, Olivan 6, Braithwaite 6, Vidal 6. Subs: Lozano 6, Puado 6, S.Gomez 6, Simo 6.
3’ – GRIEZMANN CHANCE – The striker shoots from 30 yards out, and he fizzes a low shot wide of the post.
16’ – OBLAK SAVE – An effort from Joselu is stopped by Oblak, with no fans in behind him due to a protest.
28’ – CABRERA SEEDS RED – Morata was bursting down the middle to chase a long ball, but the defender drags him down and gets a straight red.
62’ – GOAL! ATLETICO MADRID 0-1 ESPANYOL – DARDER SCORES – Joselu heads a cross back across goal into a dangerous area at the back post, and Darder sticks out a leg to volley home past Oblak.
67’ – MORATA CHANCE – A foul gives a chance to Atletico to whip the ball in through Griezmann, Lecomte flaps, and Morata has a low strike blocked away.
78’ – GOAL! ATLETICO MADRID 1-1 ESPANYOL – FELIX SCORES – A brilliant strike. The forward strides down the inside left to control a ball over the top, and he hits the ball with such power that he manages to beat Lecomte at his near post.