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La Liga: Bale saves Real Madrid, Morata scores first Atletico goal

Club Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF - La Liga

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Alvaro Morata of Atletico Madrid celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Villarreal CF at Wanda Metropolitano on February 24, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

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Alvaro Morata finally grabbed his first Atletico Madrid goal to pave the way for a 2-0 win over Villareal at home. The former Chelsea man joined in January and had gone three league matches without finding the back of the net, but he whipped a 31st minute volley low into the bottom-left corner to open his account.

Saul added the second as the game wound down, looping a chip over the goalkeeper with two minutes to go. The hosts could have had more, but Jose Gimenez and Diego Costa both saw close-range headers saved by Sergio Asenjo in the second half. The win moved Atletico back within seven of Barcelona at the top of the table, and five ahead of third-placed Real Madrid before Los Blancos kicked off.

Real Madrid, however, was able to return the points gap to two as Santiago Solari made five changes from the side that fell last time out and Gareth Bale provided the difference from the spot in a 2-1 victory. Karim Benzema initially put Madrid ahead with a penalty of his own after VAR awarded the spot-kick. Luka Modric’s powerful cross crashed into Enis Bardhi’s arm who simply raised his hand to protect his face, and that allowed Benzema to send Aitor Fernandez the wrong way from the spot.

Levante equalized through Roger Marti’s 10th goal of the season, but there was plenty of controversy surrounding the winning moment. Casemiro went down in the penalty area under minimal (if any) contact, and despite the referee’s consultation of the video monitor at the behest of VAR, the penalty was awarded. Bale delivered the goods with 12 minutes to go, and Madrid took home all three points. Both teams finished with 10 men as Ruben Rochina earned his second yellow card in the 86th minute, and just two minutes later Madrid defender Nacho earned his marching orders as well.

Real Betis jumped to seventh in the La Liga table with a 2-0 away win at Real Valladolid. Betis scored both goals near the end of a half, as Aissa Mandi opened the scoring in first-half extra time with a beautiful scissor-kick after Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip came way too far off his line to challenge a free-kick delivery. Joaquin then left no doubt in the 87th minute, tapping home after Sergio Canales burst down the right and across the byline, cutting a cross that saw defender Kiko completely whiff at controlling before it reached Joaquin. The loss for the home side leaves them still in a precarious position, in 16th just three points above the drop.

Valencia was pegged back by a late Martin Braithwaite goal in a 1-1 draw at Leganes. The visitors had gone ahead in the 22nd minute via Gregory Kondogbia who headed home off a free-kick. That goal was Valencia’s only shot on target in the match, and their only real chance other than Jose Gaya’s 10th minute vicious effort that came off the far post. Leganes, meanwhile, pushed the whole match for an equalizer, and exploded forward as time ran out. Braithwaite equalized in the 88th minute before they nearly won it in stoppage time through Youssef En-Nesyri who saw his effort saved by Neto after a turnover.

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