It will not live in the memory like their victory at Old Trafford, but Atletico Madrid again won by a solitary goal on their travels, this time courtesy of Koke’s second-half strike at Rayo Vallecanno.
A local derby where neither goalkeeper was troubled greatly was lit up four minutes into the second half when Koke played the ball into the feet of Joao Felix, who then played a perfectly weighted return ball which the Spain international slotted just inside the far post.
Randy Nteka had the best chance to equalise when Francisco Garcia found him with a low cross but he skewed his effort way off target.
Rayo’s chances were boosted with five minutes remaining when Angel Correa was sent off following an incident with Alejandro Catena off the ball.
The win puts Atleti up to third place, three points clear of Barcelona ahead of El Clasico on Sunday.
Rayo Vallecano are in 13th in the table.
TALKING POINT – SIMEONE HAS HIS ATLETI BACK
Five weeks ago Atleti secured a last-minute winner in a seven-goal thriller against Getafe, which followed hot on the heels of a 4-2 reverse at Barcelona and a remarkable come-from-behind 3-2 win over Valencia. Now they are on a run of six wins from seven while conceding three goals. Partly, a result of injuries, with Thomas Lemar injured and Yannick Carrasco suspended, Diego Simeone has played a less talented side but one capable of scrapping out victories which they were not capable of doing earlier in the season. No one will be more delighted about this than the Argentine coach who will be already planning on eking out similar result against Manchester City in the Champions League next month.
MAN OF THE MATCH – JOAO FELIX (ATLETICO MADRID)
There was no real stand-out in this match but the young Portuguese forward is making the leap from starlet to flat-out star player. For much of his first two years in Madrid he was a fringe player only occasionally giving reminders why £113 million was paid for him. Now the best attacks the side produce invariably involve him. The way he drew defenders and slide a perfect return pass for Koke enabled his skipper to score the winner. With the Champions League quarter-final next month and his country’s World Cup qualifiers also on the horizon, he has the chance to raise his status a level further – and looks ready to do so.
Rayo Vallecano: Dimitrievski 6; Balliu 6, Mario Suarez 7, Catena 7, Fran Garcia 6; Valentin 6, Comesana 6; Bebe 5, Trejo 8, Alvaro Garcia 6; Guardiola 6.
Subs: Palazon 6, Ciss 6, Nteka 5, Sylla 6.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak 7; Llorente 7, Gimenez 7, Savic 7, Reinildo 7, Renan Lodi 7; Koke 7, Hector Herrera 6, De Paul 7; Joao Felix 8*, Griezmann 6.
Subs: Kondogbia 6, Suarez 6, Correa 4, Felipe 6, Hermoso 6.
13′ GRIEZMANN HAD TO SCORE Joao Felix latched onto a quick free-kick and flicked a header square to Griezmann who, admittedly, was stretching but poked the ball wide of the target from around eight yards out.
49′ GOAL FOR ATLETI! Koke plays the ball to Joao Felix on the edge of the box and receives a perfectly timed return ball which he slots first time into the far corner.
59′ REINILDO CLEARS OFF THE LINE Trejo’s shot had Oblak beaten but the defender blocked it. Rayo appeal for a penalty but no dice.
79′ WHAT A CHANCE! Trejo’s free-kick finds Garcia who forces a ball across the six-yard box but Nteka, swinging a leg at it, gets a poor contact on his strike and the ball skews perpendicular to the goal.
85′ CORREA GETS A RED CARD! He appeared to push Catena over but you must imagine there was more in it than that for the substitute to reach his marching orders.