SAN SEBASTIÁN: A brace from substitute Juanmi sealed a 3-0 win for Real Sociedad on Thursday to virtually end Atlético Madrid’s fading hopes of challenging for the La Liga title.
With a 12-point deficit to Barcelona, Atlético were already facing an uphill task to overhaul the runaway La Liga leaders.
Now with only five games remaining, Diego Simeone’s men would be forgiven for focusing their remaining efforts on making sure they finish second ahead of Real Madrid, as well as their bid to win the Europa League.
Atlético face Arsenal in the semifinals of the Europa League next week.
Simeone warned on Tuesday his side would have to start improving if they were to stop star striker Antoine Griezmann from being lured to a rival club. Barcelona and England’s Premier League are, according to reports, his favoured destinations.
After this performance, the Argentine should have even more reason for concern.
“Today, we played poorly in the first half and in the second half we improved at first, but didn’t have the consistency to find the equaliser,” said Simeone.
“We have to congratulate Real Sociedad because they played a great match and won fairly.”
Although well clear of the relegation zone, this match was a matter of pride for Sociedad – and the hosts made it show on their way to handing Atlético only their fourth league defeat of the campaign.
Livelier from the outset, Sociedad took a 27th minute lead when Willian José pounced on a delivery from Belgian Adnan Januzaj to beat Jan Oblak down low.
Two minutes later, Griezmann produced his first real threat, but the French forward’s left-footed effort from inside the area sailed high and wide.
The hosts responded well, with Aritz Elustondo and Sergio Canales testing Oblak’s reflexes before the halftime interval.
Simeone replaced Ángel Correa with veteran Fernando Torres for the second half, but the former Liverpool striker failed to have an impact.
Sociedad continued to press and, as a consequence, earned the lion’s share of chances in a dominant second half.
Raúl Navas saw a header go just wide on the hour from a Canales cross, while minutes later, Oblak got down smart with his body to block a shot from Januzaj.
A Torres header sailed wide on 65 minutes, and another header from Šime Vrsaljko moments later was also off target.
Juanmi replaced Mikel Oyarzabal on 71 minutes and sent the Anoeta Stadium into raptures less than eight minutes later when he ran on to José’s ball to beat Oblak.
With no wind left in their sails, Atlético were cast adrift in added-on time when Juanmi beat the offside trap and ran on to a through ball to beat the onrushing Oblak with a delightful chip from eight yards out.
At the other end of the table, Málaga were relegated after losing 1-0 to fellow strugglers Levante.
Ghanaian star Emmanuel Boateng scored the only goal in the third minute of injury time to condemn Málaga to the drop.