Rayo Vallecano 0-1 Atletico Madrid: Koke seals derby victory despite Correa red
Koke's fine second-half strike earned Atletico Madrid a 1-0 derby victory over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though Diego Simeone's team finished with 10 men.
Antoine Griezmann and Joao Felix missed the best openings of a cagey first half, before visiting captain Koke finished neatly into the bottom-right corner in the 49th minute.
Jan Oblak made a fine left-handed save to preserve the lead, and Atleti held on despite Angel Correa's late red card, earning a fifth successive league win and boosting their hopes of a top-four finish.
Griezmann's early volley forced Stole Dimitrievski into a reaction stop at his near post, before Joao Felix poked agonisingly wide after meeting Rodrigo de Paul's free-kick at the back post.
Joao Felix then sent a disappointing header over the bar from a right-wing corner on 34 minutes, but the fleet-of-foot Portugal international was Atleti's brightest attacker in a competitive first half.
Stefan Savic headed over from another set-piece at the end of a first half in which chances came at a premium, with both sides each registering just one shot on target each before the break.
Atleti went up a gear at the start of the second half, however, with Koke exchanging a neat give-and-go with Joao Felix before bending the ball into the bottom-right corner.
Mario Suarez drew a stunning save from Oblak on the hour and substitute Correa put his team in a difficult spot when he saw red on 85 minutes for shoving Alejandro Catena, but the visitors clung on.
What does it mean? Atleti on the up
The victory represented the fifth consecutive win managed by Simeone's team in LaLiga, after they had recorded just three wins in their previous 10 outings, and also comes off the back of their Champions League success against Manchester United in midweek.
Atleti now sit third in LaLiga ahead of Barcelona's huge Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Sunday. They lead the Blaugrana by three points, and Real Betis by five.
Koke joins select group
Koke's cultured finish represented the midfielder's first league goal of the season, and came from his first attempt and his first touch in the Vallecano penalty area.
He also became one of just five players to score in each of the last 12 LaLiga campaigns, joining Karim Benzema, ex-Atleti man Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, and team-mate Griezmann.
Joao Felix firing on all cylinders
Joao Felix produced a lively performance throughout, and was key in the opening goal, setting up Koke's finish with a perfectly weighted return pass.
The 22-year-old has now been involved in seven goals in his last seven LaLiga performances, recording four goals and three assists, as many goal contributions as he had managed in his previous 31 appearances in the competition (also four goals and three assists).
Key Opta Facts
- Simeone has become the fourth head coach to oversee 200 clean sheets in LaLiga history after Luis Aragones (230), Miguel Munoz (225) and Javier Irureta (204)
- Luis Suarez played his fourth consecutive game in LaLiga without being a starter, his longest streak taking part in a match without starting since his arrival to Spain in the 2014-15 season.
- Atleti have won five consecutive games in LaLiga for the first time in a single season since January 2021 (eight).
- Vallecano are winless in their last ten LaLiga games (D2 L8), their worst streak in the competition since November 2018 (also 10 – D4 L6).
- Correa has been sent-off for the third time with Atleti in LaLiga, only former captain Gabi (four) has seen red on more occasions under Simeone in the competition.
Atleti are back in LaLiga action when they host Deportivo Alaves after the international break, on April 2. Vallecano, meanwhile, travel to Granada the following day.