Álvaro Morata

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La Liga: Morata the hero as Atleti keep up with Barca, Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid was heading for another disappointment on Sunday before Alvaro Morata came to the rescue again.

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The striker provided the spark Atletico needed after his team had conceded a goal in the first half at home against Espanyol, which increased the pressure on Atletico following its three-match winless run and victories by Spanish league leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid a day earlier.

Morata led Atletico’s rally with an assist to Angel Correa’s goal just before halftime. He then scored his sixth goal in as many matches after the break to put the team back on top before Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion sealed the 3-1 victory in injury time.

“What matters is that we won,” Morata said. “In the end, it’s all about us sticking together in the difficult moments. Today we found a way to earn the three points that allowed us to stay near the top of the standings.”

The home win moved Atletico to third place with 24 points, one point behind Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish powerhouses have a game in hand because their “clasico” match was postponed until December due to last month’s separatist rally in the Catalan capital.

Atletico was coming off a loss at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League and two league draws at Sevilla and against Alaves. It had won only two of its last nine league matches entering the weekend.

“Today we showed the consistency that we lacked in the last few matches,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.

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Espanyol opened the scoring with a shot from outside the area by Sergi Darder in the 38th minute, but Correa equalized with a close-range header off a cross from Morata in first-half stoppage time. The goal was initially disallowed for offside by Morata, but video review determined he was in a legal position.

Morata, who was recalled to Spain’s national team this week, put Atletico ahead with a shot into the top corner from inside the area in the 58th. Koke netted his goal from near the penalty spot in the final minutes.

It was the third straight league loss for Espanyol, which stayed second-to-last in the 20-team standings with eight points. It has lost nine of its 13 matches, with two wins and two draws.

Atletico had lost three of its last four league matches against Espanyol, which is one of only two teams – Real Madrid is the other – to beat Atletico at its home in the league since the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was inaugurated in 2017.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win, go level on points with Barcelona (video)

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Atletico Madrid’s victory over Athletic Bilbao, inspired by Angel Correa’s genius, highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Atletico Madrid 4-2 Granada

Diego Simeone took what many would consider to be a gamble prior to Saturday’s first whistle: starting Angel Correa over Diego Costa, Atletico’s goal scoring machine.

By the 64th minute, however, everyone at the Wanda Metropolitana and Simeone himself knew that the right choice was made. Correa – a low light coming into Saturday’s game – contributed the assists on both goals that handed Los Colchoneros their fifth win of the season.

Early on, it was Jan Oblak to the rescue, as Athletic’s attack cracked the home side’s backline. Specifically, the Slovenian showed off his impeccable abilities when, Iñigo Martínez’s header from a corner kick set piece, was just tipped over the crossbar.

The Basque’s club dominance wouldn’t last long.

In the 28th minute, following some mesmerizingly quick faints inside the penalty box, Correa laid it off to Saul, who made no mistake and put it into the back of net. It was the start of the Argentine’s special night.

Following a slew of uninterrupted passes, it was Correa again making the penultimate effort. This time, his darting, crossing service within the box found a well-positioned Alvaro Morata, who gently tapped the ball into the back of the net.

With the postponement of El Clasico, which was done because Catalan separatists are planning another large rally in Barcelona, Atletico will share the podium with leaders Barcelona for at least a week after their win against Athletic Bilbao, who host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 1-0 RCD Mallorca 

Valladolid 2-0 Eibar

Costa and Felix score as Atletico Madrid ends winless streak

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MADRID (AP) Diego Costa and Joao Felix scored a goal each as Atletico Madrid defeated promoted Mallorca 2-0 on Wednesday to halt a three-game winless streak and move back to the top of the Spanish league standings.

Costa scored his first goal of the season with a first-half header in Mallorca, and Felix sealed the victory after halftime.

Atletico has 13 points from six matches, one point more than Athletic Bilbao, which lost the lead after being held to a 1-1 draw at last-place Leganes.

Real Madrid can move past both Atletico and Athletic if it beats promoted Osasuna at home later on Wednesday.

Atletico hosts Real Madrid on Saturday.

Diego Simeone’s team had drawn its last two matches, against Celta Vigo in the league and Juventus in the Champions League, both at home. It lost at Real Sociedad in its previous league match.

Atletico played with 10 men against Mallorca from the 77th minute as striker Alvaro Morata was sent off following an altercation with an opponent. Morata had replaced Costa in the 69th.

Costa, who missed the beginning of the season because of an injury, opened the scoring with a firm header in the 26th. Felix added to the lead in the 64th after his shot from inside the area deflected on a defender and went over the Mallorca goalkeeper. It was the second goal of the season for Felix, the 19-year-old Portugal forward who joined from Benfica in the offseason.

Japanese teenager Takefusa Kubo, playing for Mallorca on a loan from Real Madrid, nearly scored for the hosts with a second-half shot that hit the post.

Mallorca, 17th in the 20-team standings with four points, has lost two in a row and hasn’t won since the opener against second-to-last-place Eibar.

UNBEATEN ATHLETIC

Athletic Bilbao took the lead at Leganes with a penalty converted by Raul Garcia in the 59th, but Oscar Rodriguez equalized two minutes later with a well-placed free kick.

The result kept Athletic as one of the three teams without a loss, along with Real Madrid and Osasuna. Leganes is yet to win after six matches and has only two points from six matches.

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La Liga roundup: Griezmann shines in Barcelona’s 5-2 drubbing of Betis

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Wins from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid highlight La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis

Antoine Griezmann’s Camp Nou debut was one for the books.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez sidelined with injuries, the floor was all Griezmann’s. He didn’t disappoint.

Down 1-0, Griezmann, sneaking past his markers inside the box, acrobatically tapped a lofting ball from Sergi Roberto into the back of the net.

The best was yet to come, however.

In the second half, as Barcelona pinned Real Betis back in their defensive third, the Frenchman’s magic came to life.

Soon after, the floodgates opened – Barcelona’s skill effortlessly began to pick apart a weaker Betis side. Just 30 minutes after the 28-year-old’s second goal, Ernesto Valverde’s side posed a 5-1 lead.

Loren Moron’s superb strike gave Betis a second, but the defending champions had already done the damage behind goals from Carles Perez, Jordi Alba, Arturo Vidal and Griezmann.

With Sunday’s performance in mind, how will Barcelona function with Messi, Suarez and Griezmann spearheading the attack?

Osasuna may soon find that out firsthand as they host the Catalonians next. Elsewhere, looking for their first points of the season, Betis host Leganes.

Leganes 0-1 Atletico Madrid 

With a goal in the 70th minute, Vitolo played the unlikely hero for Atletico Madrid in their 1-0 win over Leganes.

Following a smooth lay-off from Joao Felix, the 29-year-old calmly slotted the ball past Juan Soriano, ten minutes after replacing Mario Hermoso.

The goal certainly meant a lot to Vitolo and Atletico Madrid, who along with Sevilla, are one of two teams to start the season with six points after two matchweeks.

Although not entirely dominant throughout the course of the match, the home side was inches from stripping two points from Los Colchoneros with Jonathan Silva’s free-kick hitting the crossbar.

Despite having a pair of clear-cut opportunities on Sunday, Atletico’s $142 million summer signing is yet to celebrate his first La Liga goal. Alvaro Morata, too, is waiting to catch fire.

With Atletico hosting an underperforming Eibar next, the narrative that Simeone’s side is lacking efficiency in the attack can soon fall flat. On the other hand, no points to their name, will look to exploit a confidence-battered Real Betis.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 0-0 Espanyol

RCD Mallorca 0-1 Real Sociedad

Chelsea, Atleti agree permanent move for Morata following loan

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MADRID (AP) Spain striker Alvaro Morata is moving to Atletico Madrid on a permanent deal from Chelsea, ending a disappointing two years in England.

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Chelsea announced the transfer of Morata on Saturday. He was on loan at Atletico for the second half of last season and was due to continue there until the end of the 2019-20 campaign.

Morata joined Chelsea from Real Madrid for a then-club record of $75 million in 2017. He never established himself as a regular starter, scoring 24 times in 72 appearances.

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Morata played in Atletico’s youth program before joining Real Madrid’s academy in 2008.