BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Atletico Madrid had been waiting for a world-class performance from star forward Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann scored twice, including a late winner, after setting up Atletico’s opener to earn a hard-fought 3-2 victory at Valladolid on Saturday to pull level on points with Spanish league leader Barcelona.
The goals were Griezmann’s fifth and sixth in La Liga through 16 rounds. He has also scored four in the Champions League, but his only other multi-goal outing this season was his brace against Belgium’s Club Brugge in October.
Atletico hadn’t won away in La Liga in nearly three months. Instead, last season’s runner-up settled for four consecutive draws, and squandering chance after chance to capitalize on similar slips by Barcelona and other title contenders.
Coach Diego Simeone hopes his side can get a boost from the victory, as well as the two-week winter break that it will start after next weekend’s game at Espanyol.
“It had been a long time since we won away from home. Fortunately, Antoine took charge of the match,” Simeone said. “He knows his place in football. He has earned it, nobody has given it to him, and today he was decisive.
“We are begging to reach the December break, but even so we keep hitting back despite being against the ropes.”
Atletico is behind Barcelona on goal difference before the defending champion visits Levante on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Luka Modric presented his Ballon d’Or award to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium crowd before Karim Benzema led Real Madrid’s 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.
Benzema scored early before he needed to be substituted in the second half with an ankle injury, leaving Madrid with questions about the fitness of its forwards before it attempts to defend its Club World Cup crown next week.
GRIEZMANN FINDS FORM
Atletico dominated the first half, as Griezmann passed for Nikola Kalinic to score before adding a penalty kick just before halftime thanks to a video review that spotted a handball by Valladolid’s Kiko Olivas.
Valladolid’s Fernando Calero pulled one back with a header in the 57th. The hosts drew level when Enes Unal headed the ball across the goalmouth where it hit Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez and ricocheted in.
Griezmann put Atletico back in front in the 80th after Stefan Savic found him alone on the left side of the six-yard box to beat goalkeeper Jordi Masip.
“I can still get better. I am not at my best yet. I am still missing that bit of speed,” said Griezmann, who helped France win the World Cup during a match-packed summer.
BENZEMA LEADS WIN
Madrid’s supporters started the match applauding Modric for being named the world’s top player.
And it seemed they were set to enjoy an easy win after celebrating Benzema’s 13th-minute goal.
But Madrid would go no closer to putting the match beyond doubt than Toni Kroos’ shot off the post, and Santiago Solari’s side ended the match listening to some jeers from its frustrated fans after the relegation-threatened Rayo almost snatched a draw. Alex Alegria and Emiliano Velazquez forced goalie Thibaut Courtois to turn back their back-to-back shots in stoppage time.
Madrid climbed into third place, overtaking Sevilla before it hosts Girona on Sunday.
Benzema was substituted in the 78th, walking gingerly on his left ankle following a brush with a Rayo defender. Madrid forward Marco Asensio also had to be substituted and had an ice pack applied to his right thigh.
Madrid, which was without injured forwards Gareth Bale and Mariano Diaz, plays Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup semifinals in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.
GETAFE MOVING UP
Getafe has joined the fight for a spot in the upper part of the table after losing once in eight rounds. Getafe beat Real Sociedad 1-0 and moved into fifth place.
RODRIGO ENDS DROUGHT
Spain forward Rodrigo Moreno ended a four-month scoring drought, a run of 19 straight games without scoring for his club, in a 1-1 draw for Valencia at Eibar.
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