By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA, Jan 4 (Reuters) - A second half goal from Koke gave off-colour Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Malaga to send them top of La Liga on Sunday.
With Barcelona not re-starting their season until Sunday after the Christmas interlude, Atletico took advantage to move three points clear of Barca.
Atletico lacked a cutting edge against a well-marshalled Malaga defence with the league’s top scorer Diego Costa having a subdued match.
Koke finally made the breakthrough, slotting the ball home after Willy Caballeros saved from Adrian Lopez.
Atletico now have 49 points from 18 games although Barcelona will return to the top with victory at home against Elche.
Real Madrid, who are eight points adrift, face Celta Vigo on Monday.
Malaga played five men in defence and the tactic succeeded in stifling Atletico’s attacking thrust with Costa and David Villa struggling to get into the game and youngster Oliver Torres, given a chance on the left, failing to unsettle Malaga.
Lopez and Cristian Rodriguez were both brought on to add pace to the Atletico attack and with the match starting to open up, Koke struck.
Lopez’s close range shot was blocked by Caballeros and Koke put the ball into an open goal. (Editing by Martyn Herman)