Atletico close in on Real Madrid

Atletico Madrid cut the gap on second place Real Madrid to just two points with a 2-1 win over 10-man Rayo Vallecano on Sunday in La Liga.

Valencia fell to a damaging 2-1 defeat at Almeria which leaves them in the relegation zone, while nine-man Real Betis lost 2-0 at home against Cadiz, denting their bid for Champions League football.

Defenders Nahuel Molina and Mario Hermoso struck first-half goals two minutes apart to put Atletico into a dominant position at Vallecas.

Rayo had defender Florian Lejeune sent off in the second half for a professional foul on Alvaro Morata, allowing Atletico to stroll, but Fran Garcia's powerful drive gave the hosts some hope in the final stages.

Atletico held on to keep up the pressure on their rivals, champions Real Madrid, who lost 3-2 at home against Villarreal on Saturday.

Diego Simeone's side have been in superb form in 2023, unbeaten in their last 12 league games, winning nine of those matches.

"The first thing we did was take stock of what we weren't doing well," Hermoso told DAZN, when asked about his side's form.

"We wanted to turn around the situation, which wasn't nice, and we know what Atletico's shirt means, what it demands."

The Rojiblancos took the lead after a slick break, with Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann combining well, before the latter played a fine pass to Morata.

The striker nudged the ball on to Molina, racing up on the right, who swept the ball home to net his first goal for the club.

Molina dedicated his strike to team-mate Angel Correa, absent from the squad after his mother died this week, raising the Argentine's number 10 shirt into the air.

"We know what 'Angelito' means to us, how hard it must be to go through a moment like this, and the team dedicates this win, with all the love in the world, to his family, to his people," added Hermoso.

Atletico soon grabbed their second with Hermoso heading home from Carrasco's corner for his fourth goal of the season.

After Lejeune was dismissed Atletico cruised, with Griezmann, Morata and Marcos Llorente all missing chances.

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