La Liga: Morata the hero as Atleti keep up with Barca, Real Madrid

Associated Press

MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid was heading for another disappointment on Sunday before Alvaro Morata came to the rescue again.

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The striker provided the spark Atletico needed after his team had conceded a goal in the first half at home against Espanyol, which increased the pressure on Atletico following its three-match winless run and victories by Spanish league leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid a day earlier.

Morata led Atletico’s rally with an assist to Angel Correa’s goal just before halftime. He then scored his sixth goal in as many matches after the break to put the team back on top before Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion sealed the 3-1 victory in injury time.

“What matters is that we won,” Morata said. “In the end, it’s all about us sticking together in the difficult moments. Today we found a way to earn the three points that allowed us to stay near the top of the standings.”

The home win moved Atletico to third place with 24 points, one point behind Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish powerhouses have a game in hand because their “clasico” match was postponed until December due to last month’s separatist rally in the Catalan capital.

Atletico was coming off a loss at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League and two league draws at Sevilla and against Alaves. It had won only two of its last nine league matches entering the weekend.

“Today we showed the consistency that we lacked in the last few matches,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.

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Espanyol opened the scoring with a shot from outside the area by Sergi Darder in the 38th minute, but Correa equalized with a close-range header off a cross from Morata in first-half stoppage time. The goal was initially disallowed for offside by Morata, but video review determined he was in a legal position.

Morata, who was recalled to Spain’s national team this week, put Atletico ahead with a shot into the top corner from inside the area in the 58th. Koke netted his goal from near the penalty spot in the final minutes.

It was the third straight league loss for Espanyol, which stayed second-to-last in the 20-team standings with eight points. It has lost nine of its 13 matches, with two wins and two draws.

Atletico had lost three of its last four league matches against Espanyol, which is one of only two teams – Real Madrid is the other – to beat Atletico at its home in the league since the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was inaugurated in 2017.