January 21, 2018 / 6:31 AM / 6 months ago

Soccer: Atletico title hopes hit, Montella earns Sevilla win

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid’s faint hopes of chasing down runaway Liga leaders Barcelona suffered a fresh blow on Saturday as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Girona, meaning they could fall 11 points adrift if the Catalans beat Real Betis on Sunday.

Soccer Football - Spanish King's Cup - Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla - Quarter-Final - First Leg - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - January 17, 2018 Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella earned his first win in La Liga at the third attempt earlier on Saturday as his impressive side secured a 3-0 win at Espanyol to go fifth in the standings.

Valencia succumbed to a surprise 2-1 defeat at basement club Las Palmas, who earned a first win under coach Paco Jemez as the visitors finished the game with nine men.

Gabriel Paulista was shown two yellow cards in quick succession and fellow defender Ruben Vezo was also sent off.

Villarreal provisionally knocked champions Real Madrid out of the top four after beating Levante 2-1 to go fourth, although Zinedine Zidane’s side can climb back above them if they beat struggling Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

Atletico are second in the standings on 43 points after 20 games, Valencia are third on 40 and Villarreal fourth on 34. Barca are top with 51 and have played one game fewer, while Real have 32 points after 18 games.

Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann capitalised on a cushioned Diego Costa header to volley them ahead in the 34th minute and score for the first time in five league games, but Liga debutants Girona have caused problems for the top teams all season and hit back.

GRIEZMANN WITHDRAWN

With one eye on next week’s King’s Cup quarter-final second leg against Sevilla, Simeone withdrew Costa after 61 minutes and Griezmann after 71 and Girona did not take long to capitalise on the reduced attacking threat.

Visiting striker Portu slid in to beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak in the 73rd minute after Atletico midfielder Koke failed to properly clear the danger in the area and the ball landed at the feet of Bernardo Espinoza who played it through.

“It’s hard to explain the substitutions because people will just look at the result,” Simeone said.

“Costa had discomfort in his muscles in the first half and I preferred to take him off so he didn’t get injured. I took off Griezmann because I thought the game was under control and Koke could give us an extra hand in the middle to provide passes to (Kevin) Gameiro but that didn’t happen.”

Valencia marched into an early lead at Las Palmas through Santi Mina but Jonathan Viera struck against his former team to level in the 20th minute and Jonathan Calleri put the home side ahead from the penalty spot in the 53rd minute after Paulista was dismissed for a handball followed by dissent.

Helped by the numerical advantage, Las Palmas held on to claim their first league win since Dec. 3 to lift them off the bottom of the table and up to 19th in the standings on 14 points.

Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella earned his first win in La Liga at the third attempt earlier on Saturday as his impressive side secured a 3-0 win at Espanyol to go fifth in the standings.

Franco Vazquez knocked in a loose ball on the rebound after a well crafted move to put Sevilla in front in the 15th minute, Pablo Sarabia added another before halftime and Luis Muriel rounded off the victory with a late third.

Sevilla lost to Real Betis and Alaves in their first two Liga games under Montella but were lifted by a late fightback that saw them beat Atletico 2-1 in the King’s Cup on Wednesday.

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis

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