The title race was thrown wide open on Saturday when Atlético Madrid suffered a shock home defeat to Levante.
The complicated and ever-changing match schedules this season meant that Atlético had to play Levante twice within three days, and the league leaders were only able to gain one point out of a possible six, allowing their title rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona to close the gap and pile the pressure on them.
Their first meeting came on Wednesday evening, with Levante hosting the leaders. In the 17th minute, Jorge de Frutos darted forward, keeping Atletico’s defenders on the back foot, before passing to Enis Bardhi who slotted in calmly to give the underdogs the lead.
Atlético struggled to break through the Levante defence and were only able to do so via a moment of luck in the 37th minute when Marcus Llorente’s shot from outside the box took an awkward deflection to end up in the back of the net.
In recent weeks, Atlético have been virtually synonymous with deflected goals but this time round, they saw no such luck for the rest of the match and had to settle for a point despite controlling most of the game.
They did, however, have the opportunity to put things right on Saturday when Levante travelled the other way to the Wanda Metropolitana, but the Valencian side proved to be tougher opponents than most had imagined.
In similar fashion to Llorente’s goal just three days before, Levante got off the mark after 30 minutes though a deflected strike from outside the box by José Luis Morales.
Atlético kept pressing and managed a total of 28 shots on goal, 11 of which hit the target, but the 23 year old goalkeeper Dani Cardenas guarded the lead for his side with a series of heroic saves.
Luis Suarez came close to equalising with a long range free-kick that beat Cardenas, but was denied by the post.
But it was game over when in stoppage time, Jan Oblak left his goal unguarded and ran up the other end of the pitch in a last gasp attempt to try and help Atlético salvage a point, only to be punished when Levante regained posession and de Frutos fired from long range into an empty net.
Real Madrid’s win away to Real Valladolid means the gap between them and Atlético has been reduced to just three points, and makes the title race well and truly open again, after many had it assumed it was already done and dusted.
Atlético Madrid still have one game in hand but that does not change the fact that rivals Real are piling the pressure on Diego Simeone’s side who will be desperate to respond quickly by regaining the form that took them the top.
Barcelona failed to capitalise on Atletico’s loss by drawing at home to Cadiz. On his record breaking 506th appearance for the club, Lionel Messi scored a penalty in the 32nd minute. But the Catalans would later give one away, and right at the death with Fernandez Iglesias equalising from the spot in the 89th minute to earn a point for the out-of-form Andaluces.
The result will only add to Barcelona’s miseries of the week, after they were thumped 4-1 at home by Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Champions League. In similar fashion, Real Sociedad took a 4-0 drumming at home to Manchester United in the Europa League.
Sunday 21 February
Barcelona 1 Cádiz 1
Real Sociedad 4 Alavés 0
Huesca 3 Granada 2
Athletic Bilbao 1 Villarreal 1
Saturday 20 February
Elche 1 Eibar 0
Atlético Madrid 0 Levante 2
Valencia 2 Celta Vigo 0
Real Valladolid 0 Real Madrid 1
Friday 19 February
Real Betis 1 Getafe 0
Wednesday 17 February
Levante 1 Atlético Madrid 1
Monday 15 February
Cádiz 0 Athletic Bilbao 4
UEFA Champions League
Wednesday 17 February
Sevilla 2 Borussia Dortmund 3
Tuesday 16 February
Barcelona 1 Paris Saint Germain 4
Thursday 18 February
Real Sociedad 0 Manchester United 4
Red Bull Salzburg 0 Villareal 2
Granada 2 Napoli 0