Eliminated by City, Atletico must ensure return to Champions

AP , Thursday 14 Apr 2022

Despite being reduced to 10 men and stymied in attack, Atletico Madrid still had a last-gasp chance to send its ill-humored Champions League quarterfinal against Manchester City into extra time.

Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid s Luis Suarez, left, Angel Corread, center, and Rodrigo De Paul stand dejected after the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match. AP

But when the ball fell to Angel Correa in the area, the forward steered his injury-time shot right at the gloves of Ederson. City's goalkeeper ensured a scoreless draw in Madrid on Wednesday and made good on the English side's 1-0 first-leg win.

Atletico can't linger in disappointment for long. It must salvage what it can from the dwindling season by making sure it returns to Europe's top club competition with a top-four finish in the Spanish league.

``We are hurting for how this Champions League ended, and we are never going to stop believing,`` Atletico midfielder Koke Resurreccion said. ``We have to finish the season well to play in the Champions again and be able to play games like this next season.''

Atletico hosts Espanyol on Sunday. The Liga titleholder enters the round in fourth place, but fifth-placed Real Betis is one point behind before playing sixth-placed Real Sociedad on Friday. Sociedad is also in striking distance at only three points behind Atletico.

With Real Madrid running away with the title race in Spain, the biggest contest is for those other three Champions League spots. Barcelona and Sevilla, level on points in second and third, are just three points ahead of Atletico.

Diego Simeone's side won six in a row in La Liga _ its best run of the season _ until it was upset at lowly Mallorca 1-0 last weekend. Together with the series against City, Atletico has gone scoreless in three consecutive games.

So, while Atletico succeeded in limiting City's vaunted attack to a single goal in 180-plus minutes, it failed to generate enough danger despite having added Antoine Griezmann and Matheus Cunha to an attack that already featured Correa, Luis Suarez and Joao Felix.

Espanyol offers Atletico a good opportunity to rediscover its finishing touch. The 11th-placed Espanyol is winless in its last five games on the road, with its last away victory coming in December.

Real Madrid is 12 points clear before visiting third-placed Sevilla on Sunday. The Sevilla game and the game at Atletico next month are the biggest hurdles left for Madrid to add to its record 34 league titles.

Karim Benzema and his league-high 24 goals will again lead Madrid in Seville. Goal No. 38 in all competitions on Tuesday clinched a 5-4 aggregate victory over Chelsea in their Champions League quarterfinal.

Madrid will be without holding midfielder Casemiro, serving a one-game suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards.

Sevilla's 4-2 win over Granada last weekend was its first victory in five rounds.

Barcelona hosts Cadiz on Monday after winning its last six league games by the combined score of 22-5. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored eight times in that period.

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