BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Finally free to play as many minutes as his coach wants, Antoine Griezmann scored to help Atlético Madrid win at Athletic Bilbao 1-0 and edge the Basque club to third place of the Spanish championship on Saturday.
Griezmann was set up by Álvaro Morata in the 47th minute. The Spanish forward fired his unmarked teammate to score the winner. The Atlético defense did the rest by blocking Bilbao and their Williams brothers, Iñaki and Nico unable to create threats with no chance to attack at the break.
Diego Simeone’s side were three points behind Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of the former clash in the Spanish capital on Sunday.
Atlético bought Griezmann’s rights on Monday to end a loan deal from Barcelona which sparked a contract dispute between the clubs. While Barcelona were looking for €40m if Griezmann played for a certain number of minutes, Atlético resisted giving Griezmann extra minutes. Barcelona finally agreed €20m to make Griezmann’s transfer permanent.
In Atlético’s starting XI, Griezmann has played the full 90 minutes for only the third time this season.
The match at the San Mamés stadium was vintage Simeone: a flash of brilliance in attack from Morata and Griezmann combined with a rock-solid defense that was never nervous absorbing pressure from the host.
When Bilbao produced late shots, goalkeeper Ivo Grbić was stoic after replacing Jan Oblak, who was dazed after a knock. Left-back Reinildo also bailed out Atlético by blocking two late strikes.
“That’s what we are: running, defending together and attacking. Today we played a great game,” Griezmann said. He admitted that not playing much due to the contract dispute had been “frustrating”.
João Félix continued as a substitute for Atlético in the 82nd minute after Simeone said the Portuguese striker was not playing as many minutes because he needed to play better.
The defeat was only the second for Bilbao, who have slipped to fourth place, since Ernesto Valverde returned for his third stint in charge.
A long-range strike from Nemanja Gudelj proved enough for Sevilla to beat Mallorca 1-0 on the road to claim their first win in three games since Jorge Sampaoli’s return as manager.
Gudelj struggled early in the season as a centre-back under Julen Lopetegui, who was replaced by Sampaoli last week. Sampaoli moved Gudelj into midfield and the Serbian international responded with a stunning goal from deep in the second half.
Sevilla’s second win in nine rounds knocked them out of the relegation zone.
Sampaoli, however, said he still had work to do after his plan to play without a striker failed to create many scoring chances.
Edinson Cavani scored his first goals since joining Valencia in the summer with the aim of playing for Uruguay at the World Cup.
The 35-year-old striker was making his fourth appearance for Valencia. He got his first goal from the penalty spot and added a second goal with a fine header. Still, that wasn’t enough to secure the victory as Elche midfielder Pere Milla also scored twice for a 2-2 draw.
Jorge Almirón made his debut as the new Elche manager when he returned to the club he left in February 2021. The stalemate at the Mestalla stadium left Elche in last place and still winless this season.
Moreover, Cristhian Stuani converted a penalty at the end of added time to snatch Girona to a 1-1 draw with visiting Cadiz.
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