MADRID – Because Barcelona and Real Madrid couldn’t play their clasico due to a big separatist rally in the Catalan capital, Atletico Madrid benefited on Saturday by beating Athletic Bilbao to move to the top of the Spanish league.
As police and protesters clashed in Barcelona, Atletico defeated Athletic 2-0 in Madrid with goals by Saul Niguez and Alvaro Morata, joining leader Barcelona and moving one point ahead of Real Madrid.
The clasico scheduled for Saturday was postponed to Dec. 18 after separatists announced plans to protest in Barcelona against the imprisonment of nine leaders for their roles in an illegal 2017 secession bid.
The clashes on Saturday came after police said 350,000 people rallied peacefully in the regional capital, many waving pro-independence flags for Catalonia – like the ones often seen during Barcelona’s matches at Camp Nou Stadium.
Atletico took advantage as its rivals were forced to rest, ending a streak of three consecutive draws.
“We always try to win matches, but we needed this one,” Niguez said. “The last three draws had been disappointing for us.”
Niguez scored in the 28th minute with a low shot from near the penalty spot after a nice run by Angel Correa, who got past a few defenders before setting up his teammate inside the area. Correa also set up Morata’s 64th-minute goal from close range.
Atletico’s first league win at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium since the beginning of September extended Athletic’s winless streak to five league matches. Athletic is 10th in the 20-team standings.
Atletico captain Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion, who had been jeered by some fans at the Metropolitano recently, heard his named chanted by the crowd on Saturday. He also helped set up Niguez’s opening goal.
“The fans are spontaneous, they want to see the team winning,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “We had a good night.”
Winning at last
Leganes finally ended its winless streak in the league by defeating promoted Mallorca 1-0 with a first-half goal by Dutch forward Martin Braithwaite.
The win provisionally lifted the southern Madrid club out of last place. It has five points from 10 matches, tied with Espanyol, which visits midtable Levante on Sunday.
The match marked the debut of interim coach Luis Cembranos, who replaced Mauricio Pellegrino this week.
Leganes had lost seven of its first nine matches under Pellegrino, drawing twice.
Back in the first division after a six-year absence, Mallorca was coming off two straight victories, including against Real Madrid at home last weekend. It sits in 15th place.
Leganes next faces Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Valladolid defeated Eibar with first-half goals by Sergi Guardiola and Mohammed Salisu, moving to eighth place.
Eibar is 16th after its 200th league match, and 161st under coach Luse Luis Mendilibar.
The Basque country club has won only one of its last 21 away matches in the league, dating to last season.
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