Atletico Madrid’s hopes of finishing second in LaLiga and securing a spot in the next Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia took a blow as they lost 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
They remain fourth on 61 points, three behind second-placed Sevilla, who were held to a 1-1 home draw by relegation-threatened Cadiz on Friday, and two off third-placed Barcelona, who have a game in hand and host lowly Mallorca on Sunday.
Coach Diego Simeone’s worries are not just about a Super Cup spot as Atletico are only four points ahead of fifth-placed Real Betis, who have a game in hand and visit Getafe on Monday.
Only LaLiga’s top four go into the Champions League.
On a day highlighted by Real Madrid’s title celebrations, after they had earlier won 4-0 at home to Espanyol, an uninspired Atletico were dominated by the hosts.
“I am satisfied with the win and the performance,” Xavi told reporters afterward. “I think we played well, not excellently, but we dominated. It was a 3-0 game. We’d been on a bad run, especially at home, and it was important to win.
“The points are vital to be in the Champions League next season. There are five teams in the race [for three places] and it has to be us. Real Madrid have already won the title. Congratulations to them, they are worthy winners because 38 games do not lie. Now it’s about winning that five team mini-league, qualifying for the Champions League and finishing second.”
While perhaps not as convincing a victory as Xavi would have hoped, the game did see the return from injury for the first time since January of young starlet Ansu Fati. The 19-year-old made his reintroduction as a substitute for the final 15 minutes, earning what may well have been the loudest cheer of the day from the Camp Nou crowd.
“He is a special player, you see that in training, someone who knows where the goal is,” Xavi said of the returning forward. “I see him more as a No.9 than a winger as he comes back from injury. He has to be close to the box. He’s lacking rhythm and match fitness, but it is great news to have him back. It is a shame we have not had him for these last few months, I am sure he would have helped, but very happy for him.”
The one major negative for Barcelona, who also had two goals ruled out for offside, was seeing Gerard Pique being forced off injured in the first half and replaced by Eric Garcia.
Following a brilliant through pass by Jordi Alba, Depay fired Barcelona ahead midway through the first half with a close-range finish.
The Catalans extended their lead early in the second half when Busquets controlled a rebound in a crowded area and found the space to drill the ball into the back of the net.
Mallorca’s goal came from nowhere and the final score made the match look closer than it was.