Saul strike earns Atletico Madrid hard-fought win at Villarreal

Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored a late winner to give Atletico Madrid a hard-fought 2-1 triumph at Villarreal on Monday, as Diego Simeone’s side climbed back into LaLiga’s top four with eight matches left in the season.

It was a much needed victory for Atletico after two consecutive losses and two wins in their last seven league matches had left them in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot next season.

They were facing an in-form Villarreal side, who were on a four-game winning streak and undefeated in their last nine league matches, a run that earned Marcelino Garcia LaLiga’s Coach of Month award in March.

Atletico moved to fourth in the standings on 58 points, two ahead of Athletic Bilbao, who lost 2-0 to leaders Real Madrid on Sunday.

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Girona are third on 65 points, two behind second-placed Barcelona. Real are comfortably ahead at the summit on 75 points while Villarreal are 10th on 38.

Atletico started well and were in control when defender Axel Witsel headed in from a corner by Rodrigo Riquelme to give the visitors the lead in the ninth minute.

Villarreal goalkeeper Filip Jörgensen made two fine reflex saves from efforts by Samuel Lino and Marcos Llorente to keep the hosts in the game and Gerard Moreno wasted a great opportunity from close range to level just before halftime.

But Alexander Sorloth took advantage of a mistake by Antoine Griezmann to equalize five minutes after the break. The French forward stepped on the ball and lost possession before Villarreal found Sorloth who fired a tidy finish past goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

As the tension grew, Atletico substitute Ángel Correa’s header hit the crossbar before Villarreal’s Dani Parejo missed a sitter from close range.

However, a resilient Atletico found the winner in the 87th minute when César Azpilicueta fed Saul who calmly sidefooted the ball home with his left foot from the edge of the area.

“It was a difficult match,” Witsel told Movistar Plus. “Villarreal pressed more in the second half than in the first. We were better in the first half. We have to press at the back and do the job.

“[Simeone] will want us to do better next, but he will be very happy with the victory.”

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