BILBAO, Spain (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid’s faint La Liga title hopes suffered a setback with a 2-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday which could leave them 10 points behind leaders Barcelona by the end of the weekend.
Bilbao forward Inaki Williams put the home side in front in the 73rd minute, guiding the ball into an empty net after Atletico’s Jose Gimenez had given the ball away in his own half.
Kenan Kodro sealed the win for Athletic five minutes from time with a shot which took a huge deflection off Gimenez, piling more pain on Atletico four days after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus.
Atletico are second in the standings on 56 points while Barca have 63 and can increase their advantage at the top when they visit Real Betis on Sunday.
Atletico had failed to muster a shot on target in Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat by Juventus which sent them out 3-2 on aggregate but the return of Diego Costa led to coach Diego Simeone fielding an exciting attacking trident of Costa, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata.
They were denied a penalty when Griezmann was tripped by Yeray Alvarez but that was the only moment of danger from the visitors in an even first half in which Athletic also had a penalty appeal turned down for handball by Saul Niguez.
The breakthrough came when Gimenez was robbed in possession by Inigo Cordoba, who played a one-two with Raul Garcia before taking a shot which was destined to go past the far post until Williams arrived to tuck the ball in.
After Kodro had doubled Bilbao’s advantage, Atletico had a chance to pull a goal back in the final minute when midfielder Rodri headed the ball down in the area but Morata somehow missed the target from close range.
Simeone thought his side were still feeling the effects of their collapse against Juventus.
“After the bad performance we gave in Turin we struggled to get going and we couldn’t create chances,” Simeone said.
“The second half was different, we showed we wanted to win but they were clinical with the chances they created.”
The Argentine would not be drawn on whether the title race was over.
“We are used to fighting on and competing but this is a moment for us to sit back, observe and try to grow,” he said.
“We are in a privileged position in the league after seven good months and we hope to stay that way. We’re used to fighting for trophies until the end, now we are slipping away from Barcelona, but it was not easy after what happened in Turin.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)