Atletico Madrid returned to the top of La Liga with a 1-1 draw away to Real Betis on Sunday night but did so at the expense of losing yet more players to injury, leaving their title hopes hanging by a thread. Diego Simeone’s side got off to an ideal start when Yannick Carrasco dribbled into an empty net in the fifth minute thanks to a lucky bounce but Betis levelled with a thumping volley from Cristian Tello in the 20th.
Atletico then lost record signing Joao Felix plus right back Kieran Trippier to injury in the second half, adding to an absentee list also containing Luis Suarez, Thomas Lemar and latest signing Moussa Dembele.
They were fortunate to avoid conceding again as Betis dominated the second half and missed several chances to take the lead. Yet Atletico were not far from snatching a winner, striker Angel Correa forcing two fine saves from Claudio Bravo in stoppage time.
Atletico returned to the summit on 67 points, one ahead of Real Madrid and two clear of Barcelona with eight games remaining. “We made an excellent start but when there was little danger they managed to score. We kept trying and we’ve dropped two points but we’re still top and our fate is in our own hands,” said Atletico captain Koke.
Atletico were missing their two top scorers in Suarez and Marcos Llorente through suspension while they faced a new setback hours before kick off when winger Thomas Lemar was left out of the matchday squad with a muscle injury.
Yet they made a flying start, tearing into Betis down both flanks and could have extended their lead through Saul, whose header was repelled by Bravo. The hosts levelled with their first real chance of the game and Atletico looked intent on regaining their lead, almost doing so when a cross from Correa trickled towards goal but was cleared off the line by Betis’ Alex Moreno.
Joao Felix had missed last week’s 1-0 defeat by Sevilla due to a ankle problem sustained on international duty with Portugal and went down visibly in pain right before halftime after a challenge from Betis defender Aissa Mandi.
He started the second half but came off three minutes later and Atletico’s lack of attacking personnel meant they had to bring on holding midfielder Lucas Torreira to replace him. Atletico looked overwhelmed in the second half but clung on thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who kept out a header from Emerson and a low strike from substitute Diego Lainez.
Atletico captain Koke tried to look on the positive side after failing to win for the third time in four league games and seeing their once healthy lead over Real and Barca yet further reduced. “We still feel strong, and if we stay strong mentally we’ll get to where we all want to,” he added.
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