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La Liga: Morata double helps Atletico Madrid keep La Liga pace

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A pair of Alvaro Morata headers was all Atletico Madrid needed to move past Real Sociedad 2-0 and keep pace with Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table.

Morata scored his brace three minutes apart just past the half-hour mark, setting Atleti up for the rest of the match. They would fall a man down on 61 minutes as Koke earned his second yellow card, but they held on for not just the win but the clean sheet as well. Thanks in large part to the half-hour man advantage, Real Sociedad out-shot Madrid 19-8, but could only muster three on target.

The win leaves Atleti seven behind Barcelona, but keeps pace with the La Liga leaders with 12 matches to go. Atletico has won three games in a row and has the club’s third three-match league winning streak since the start of December after failing to generate one at all before that time.

Leandro Cabrera headed Getafe into the lead 20 minutes in, and Jaime Mata put the game away just before halftime in a 2-1 road win at Real Betis to keep the visitors in a Champions League place. While Betis held 65% of the possession, they managed just six total shots, with only two on target.

Eibar picked up all three points as Sergi Enrich scored in the 87th minute to secure a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo. The home side completely dominated the match, pummeling relegation-threatened Celta Vigo with 15 shots, coming close multiple times in the second half including a 67th minute penalty miss by Charles before the late winner when Marc Cardona did all the hard work weaving through defenders down the left before his blocked shot fell right to Enrich on the doorstep for the tap-in.

The win does more harm to Celta Vigo than help Eibar, as the visitors are still just two points above the relegation zone. Eibar, meanwhile, sits in no-man’s land in ninth, eight back of a Champions League place and 11 above the drop.

Finally, in the late Sunday game, a timid first-half between Valencia and Athletic Bilbao gave way to a 2-0 win for the hosts as Rodrigo scored just after the break and Kevin Gameiro finished it off late. The victory moved Valencia up to seventh just a point behind Sevilla.

La Liga: Bale saves Real Madrid, Morata scores first Atletico goal

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Alvaro Morata finally grabbed his first Atletico Madrid goal to pave the way for a 2-0 win over Villareal at home. The former Chelsea man joined in January and had gone three league matches without finding the back of the net, but he whipped a 31st minute volley low into the bottom-left corner to open his account.

Saul added the second as the game wound down, looping a chip over the goalkeeper with two minutes to go. The hosts could have had more, but Jose Gimenez and Diego Costa both saw close-range headers saved by Sergio Asenjo in the second half. The win moved Atletico back within seven of Barcelona at the top of the table, and five ahead of third-placed Real Madrid before Los Blancos kicked off.

Real Madrid, however, was able to return the points gap to two as Santiago Solari made five changes from the side that fell last time out and Gareth Bale provided the difference from the spot in a 2-1 victory. Karim Benzema initially put Madrid ahead with a penalty of his own after VAR awarded the spot-kick. Luka Modric’s powerful cross crashed into Enis Bardhi’s arm who simply raised his hand to protect his face, and that allowed Benzema to send Aitor Fernandez the wrong way from the spot.

Levante equalized through Roger Marti’s 10th goal of the season, but there was plenty of controversy surrounding the winning moment. Casemiro went down in the penalty area under minimal (if any) contact, and despite the referee’s consultation of the video monitor at the behest of VAR, the penalty was awarded. Bale delivered the goods with 12 minutes to go, and Madrid took home all three points. Both teams finished with 10 men as Ruben Rochina earned his second yellow card in the 86th minute, and just two minutes later Madrid defender Nacho earned his marching orders as well.

Real Betis jumped to seventh in the La Liga table with a 2-0 away win at Real Valladolid. Betis scored both goals near the end of a half, as Aissa Mandi opened the scoring in first-half extra time with a beautiful scissor-kick after Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip came way too far off his line to challenge a free-kick delivery. Joaquin then left no doubt in the 87th minute, tapping home after Sergio Canales burst down the right and across the byline, cutting a cross that saw defender Kiko completely whiff at controlling before it reached Joaquin. The loss for the home side leaves them still in a precarious position, in 16th just three points above the drop.

Valencia was pegged back by a late Martin Braithwaite goal in a 1-1 draw at Leganes. The visitors had gone ahead in the 22nd minute via Gregory Kondogbia who headed home off a free-kick. That goal was Valencia’s only shot on target in the match, and their only real chance other than Jose Gaya’s 10th minute vicious effort that came off the far post. Leganes, meanwhile, pushed the whole match for an equalizer, and exploded forward as time ran out. Braithwaite equalized in the 88th minute before they nearly won it in stoppage time through Youssef En-Nesyri who saw his effort saved by Neto after a turnover.

Atletico Madrid, Morata try to leave behind Real Madrid days

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid did its best to distance Alvaro Morata from his days with rival Real Madrid.

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The newly signed striker was officially presented on Tuesday, with Atletico showing a video that included images of Morata wearing Atletico’s jersey as a kid and teenager.

Atletico signed him on Monday to an 18-month loan from Chelsea, bringing him back to where he started playing as a child. But many Atletico fans have criticized the transfer because of his past with Real Madrid.

“The important thing is that I’m here,” Morata said. “I signed with Atletico and I feel like I’m part of this club once again.”

The 26-year-old Morata played in Atletico’s youth program before joining Real Madrid’s academy in 2008. He eventually became a first-team player for Real Madrid and helped it to win two Champions League titles.

Chelsea enticed him in 2017 with a club-record fee of $75 million, but Morata’s playing time and goal production declined.

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“There have been many twists and turns in my life, but destiny wanted me to end up here,” Morata said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be here.”

Atletico visits Real Betis on Sunday, and its next league match is at home against Real Madrid a week later. Atletico next month also faces Juventus – where Morata played for two seasons – in the round of 16 of the Champions League.

After being asked what he would do if he scored against his former teams, Morata said only that it would a “good problem” to have.

“Hopefully I’ll have to think about that a lot, because it would mean that things are going well,” he said.

Morata has 82 goals and 37 assists in his career. He also has 27 appearances and 13 goals for Spain. One of his Spain teammates was Diego Costa, whom he will likely compete with for a starting spot in Diego Simeone’s squad.

“I consider Diego my friend,” Morata said. “I don’t see why we can’t play together. It’s always easy when you are playing with great players by your side.”

Morata completes move to Atletico Madrid

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Alvaro Morata is back at his boyhood club Atletico Madrid.

The Spanish international has arrived at Atleti on an initial 18-month loan deal from Chelsea, with the striker eager to end his unhappy stay at Stamford Bridge. There is no word on if Morata’s deal can become a permanent one.

Morata is from Madrid and played for Atleti’s academy team for four years before joining Real Madrid as a teenager.

Morata, 26, arrived from Real Madrid in the summer of 2017 for a fee of $90 million but could never replace Diego Costa, the man who he will ironically play alongside at Atletico.

“I’m very happy and proud to be here. I can’t wait to start training, meet my new teammates and play,” Morata said.

How bad was Morata at Chelsea? Hit and miss is probably a good summation.

He scored 24 goals in 72 appearances in all competitions, but he just never seemed comfortable in the Premier League and had problems with the physicality of England’s top-flight.

In the air he excelled with plenty of headed goals, and he won an FA Cup under Antonio Conte in his first full season in England. However, under Maurizio Sarri both Morata and Olivier Giroud have been deemed surplus to requirements with Eden Hazard deployed as central striker in a false formation in recent weeks and the final straw was Gonzalo Higuain’s loan arrival at Chelsea from Juventus last week.

Morata is eligible to play in the UEFA Champions League for Atletico as they face Juventus — Morata’s former club where he spent two seasons and scored 27 goals — next month in the last 16

One of Morata’s best moments in a Chelsea shirt came when he scored the opener in their comeback 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last season.

The home fans at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium will now be hoping to see Morata celebrating after scoring for them time and time again as he aims to get his career back on track in his hometown.

Higuain completes loan move to Chelsea, with option to buy

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Gonzalo Higuain is officially a Chelsea player after completing his loan move from seven-time defending Serie A champions Juventus — via loan to AC Milan since August — to the Premier League side on Wednesday.

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The six-month loan agreement reportedly contains a clause that would allow Chelsea to sign the 31-year-old Argentine forward for a fee reported to be more than $40 million. Chelsea can also extend the loan an additional year for $20 million, according to reports.

With Alvaro Morata — who’s now expected to embark a move of his own, to Atletico Madrid — and Olivier Giroud misfiring for the fourth-place Blues, Maurizio Sarri re-emphasized this month his desire to once again work with Higuain. The two spent the 2015-16 season together at Napoli, when Higuain famously scored more goals (36) than he made appearances (35).

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Morata and Giroud have between them scored just six league goals (five from Morata) this season, and have been particularly nonexistent over the last two months as Chelsea faded from title-contending hopefuls, to only just holding on in the top-four race with Arsenal and Manchester United now just three points behind them.

Higuain will be unavailable for selection in Thursday’s League Cup semifinal second leg against Tottenham Hotspur due to his transfer being completed after midday on Wednesday. Tottenham have a slim 1-0 advantage heading to Stamford Bridge.

Higuain’s first chance at a Chelsea debut will come in Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash with Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. Chelsea return to PL action next Wednesday, when they’ll visit 12th-place Bournemouth.