MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid kept up their pursuit of La Liga leaders Barcelona by beating Leganes 1-0 at home on Saturday as coach Diego Simeone rotated his squad in preparation for next week’s Champions League game against Juventus.
Midfielder Saul Niguez struck the only goal of the match, following up to score on the rebound in the 50th minute after his penalty was saved.
Atletico, who travel to Serie A champions Juventus on Tuesday defending a 2-0 lead in the last-16 second leg, were without first-choice defenders Lucas Hernandez, Diego Godin and Filipe Luis, allowing 21-year-old Colombian full back Andres Solano to make his debut.
Simeone withdrew talismanic forward and usual penalty taker Antoine Griezmann at halftime, bringing on Saul in his place, and he left in-form striker Alvaro Morata on the bench to keep him fresh for the trip to Turin.
The win took second-placed Atletico on to 56 points, four behind leaders Barcelona who play Rayo Vallecano later on Saturday, and eight clear of Real Madrid, who visit Real Valladolid on Sunday.
Atletico coach Simeone admitted he had one eye on the Juventus match.
“We try to win every game while also looking after our needs and that’s how I managed the game today,” he told a news conference.
“It’s normal, because Tuesday’s game is very important but whenever we plan ahead we always try to ensure we know what to do in the first game, we play in the way we think is most appropriate and we try to win it.”
Atletico got their breakthrough when Angel Correa was fouled by Kenneth Omeruo in the area and Saul produced a soft shot from the spot which was parried by Andriy Lunin.
Leganes, whose players wore their mothers’ names on the back of their shirts the day after International Women’s Day, had a penalty appeal turned down in added time when Jose Arnaiz went over from a challenge from Rodrigo.
“I’m a bit frustrated because it was a very even game, they created very few chances although we didn’t create much either,” said Leganes coach Mauricio Pellegrino.
“The penalty decision changed the game and made things very difficult for us, and we lacked that cutting edge you need in a game like this.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)