Atletico Madrid all but ensured themselves Champions League football for next season with a comfortable victory at Elche.
The Rojiblancos went in front just before the half-hour mark when Renan Lodi took down a long diagonal ball from Antoine Griezmann and slid a low cross towards Matheus Cunha who nudged home.
There was little threat coming back from Elche and Cunha was unlucky to see an effort cleared off the line by Pedro Bigas before Rodrigo de Paul ensured victory in the 63rd minute.
Griezmann’s one-two with the midfielder bisected the home defence before the French forward unselfishly squared the ball for De Paul to score in an empty net.
The win lifts Atletico up to third in the table above Sevilla and leaves them six clear of Real Betis in fifth, with two games remaining.
Where next for Atletico? – It’s been a strange year. It was a disappointing title defence which was over before the turn of the year following four straight defeats in December. Yet with obituaries being readied for Diego Simeone’s time in Madrid in his 11th year as boss, he turned this form around and pushed Manchester City hard for a place in the last four of the Champions League. In fairness having lost Rodri, Lucas Hernandez and Thomas Partey in recent years, an upheaval was very understandable and this close season while Luis Suarez and, most likely, Antoine Griezmann will leave, Simeone will dearly hope to retain the services of Joao Felix as he begins to make the leap to world class level. That said, with Real Madrid and Barcelona only likely to get better, after the Argentine boss has done well to create a big three in division over the last decade, it is easy to see a gulf emerging once more and the Rojiblancos competing with the Sevilla clubs and Villarreal for third and fourth once more.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid) – It hasn’t been the best season for the Brazilian, who has been in and out of the starting line-up and even when starting has seldom played much past the hour mark. He has often suffered in comparison to Thomas Lemar and Yannick Carrasco who are are generally more impressive in attacking areas when playing at left wing back, but on this occasion Lodi, after an early introduction replacing Sime Vrsaljko, was Atletico’s chief threat not least creating the first goal, as well as a number of other chances.
Elche: Badia 6; Palacios 6, Enzo Roco 6, Bigas 6; Fidel 6, Mascarell 6, Gumbau 6, Morente 7, Mojica 7; Pere Milla 5, Boye 6.
Subs: Josan 6, Perez 6, Carrillo 5, Pastore 6, Guti 6.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak 6; Savic 6, Gimenez 7, Reinildo 7; Carrasco 6, De Paul 7, Kondogbia 7, Vrsaljko 6, Koke 6; Cunha 7, Griezmann 7.
Subs: Lodi 8*, Herrera 6, Felipe 6, Suarez 7, Correa 6
28′ GOAL FOR ATLETI! Lodi bring the ball down from Griezmann and squares in the area for Cunha who slides in to put his side in front.
48′ CLEARED OFF THE LINE! The same combination who linked for the goal almost did so again as Lodi’s low cross was dinked over the keeper by Cunha but Bigas headed off the line.
63′ GOAL FOR ATLETI! And it came from a lovely move. A fine one-two from Griezmann and De Paul and the French forward then squared the ball for the latter to tap home.
89′ OFF THE BAR! Suarez did superbly to lay a chance on a plate for fellow substitute Correa but he blasted the ball onto the crossbar.