Atletico Madrid have gone third in La Liga with a narrow 2-1 win against Cadiz, temporarily leapfrogging Barcelona ahead of their game against Osasuna on Sunday.
Despite coming into this game 18th in the table, Cadiz were undefeated in four and in the most consistent form of any side in the bottom half.
While that run included three draws against Grenada, Getafe and Celta Vigo, under Sergio Gonzalez – appointed as manager in January – they have generally been much harder to beat than they were across the first half of the season.
The visitors made the worst possible start to the match, goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma playing an attempted pass out from the back straight to the feet of Joao Felix. He took a touch, composed himself, cut back inside and rifled into the far corner from a tight angle to make it 1-0.
Atleti looked content to sit on their lead, ceding the majority of possession to Cadiz as they waited for a killer opening.
Gonzalez’s side kept things tight for the rest of the first half, however, and gradually started to wrest the momentum from their hosts.
Chances for Alfonso Espino, Alvaro Negredo and Anthony Lozano had Diego Simeone looking increasingly agitated on the sidelines, barking admonishments at his players and removing his black jacket with a dramatic flourish.
If his side’s lax defending piqued his anger, it was nothing compared to what happened next. Contesting a loose ball in midfield, Atleti cente-back Reinildo rushed forwards and dived in two-footed on Ruben Alcaraz.
Having missed the ball and caught his opponent, it was no surprise when referee Pablo Gonzalez Fuertes showed him a straight red.
After furious protests from Simeone and his players, Fuertes was convinced to go to the monitor. On second viewing he decided to downgrade the red card to a yellow, a decision which left Cadiz understandably aggrieved.
There was a sense of cosmic justice as the visitors levelled the scores on the stroke of half time. Espino whipped a cross into the box and Negredo ghosted between Jose Maria Gimenez and Reinildo to head home, compounding a horrible few minutes for the latter.
Ultimately, though, the cosmos decided in Atleti’s favour. They nabbed a winner midway through the second half, Ledesma pushing a shot from Angel Correa, on as a substitute, into the path of Rodrigo De Paul, who thundered into the back of the net.
Cadiz had a series of chances late on, but failed to convert them. Atleti were belatedly reduced to 10 men when Javi Serrano, having just come on, steamed into Alex Fernandez, but it was too late for the visitors to make the most of their advantage.
Reinildo lucky to stay on the field. Despite the result, this wasn’t a good performance from Atleti. They were fortunate not to play most of the game with 10 men, with Reinildo deserving of a red card for his challenge on Alcaraz.
Not only did Reinildo leave the ground with both feet, he clearly caught his opponent with considerable force at high speed. The fact that the referee only took a cursory look at the replay made the call even more baffling. If anything, it was a worse challenge than the one which saw Serrano sent off later in the game.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid). While he and Reinildo were both at fault for Negredo’s goal, Gimenez redeemed himself in spectacular fashion in the second half.
Not only did he give an aggressive, front-foot performance at the centre of defence, snapping into a series of tackles and interceptions, he also cleared a shot from Luis Hernandez off the line after Jan Oblak had scuffed an attempted punch. It was a game-changing intervention and denied Cadiz an equaliser at a crucial moment in the game.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak 6, Carrasco 5, Reinildo 2, Gimenez 8, Savic 7, Llorente 6, De Paul 7, Herrera 6, Koke 5, Joao Felix 7, Griezmann 4
Subs: Lodi 6, Suarez 5, Correa 6, Felipe 5, Serrano 1
Cadiz: Ledesma 3, Akapo 5, Hernandez 7, Chust 6, Espino 7, Sobrino 6, San Emeterio 5, Alcaraz 6, Idrissi 5, Lozano 5, Negredo 7
Subs: Perez 4, Fernandez 5, Carcelen N/A, Perea N/A
3’ GOAL! That’s an absolute howler from the goalkeeper. Ledesma tries to play a pass out from the back but sends the ball straight to the feet of Joao Felix, who lashes home from a tight angle.
39’ RED CARD OVERTURNED! Reinildo gets a straight red after launching in two-footed on Alcaraz, missing the ball and catching his opponent. It looked fairly clear-cut but, having been convinced to go to the monitor, the referee downgrades it to a yellow. Cadiz are furious.
45’ GOAL! Fuelled by the injustice of that overturned red card, Cadiz go ahead through Negredo. He ghosts between Gimenez and Reinildo before heading past Oblak to make it 1-1.
68’ GOAL! Atleti lead again, slicing Cadiz open with their best move of the match. Correa plays a one-two with Marcos Llorente before lashing a shot on target which Ledesma pushes back into the danger area. De Paul is there to follow up, rifling into the back of the net.
75’ OFF THE LINE! Cadiz come within inches of an equaliser after Oblak miscues a punch to the feet of Hernandez. He thrashes a shot on target, but Gimenez heads it off the line to deny the visitors what looked like a certain goal.
87’ RED CARD! Having only just come on, Serrano makes an early exit. He lost the ball in midfield, thundered into Fernandez and, this time, the referee makes the right decision.