Kevin Gameiro came off the bench to score and create Atletico Madrid's goals as Diego Simeone's men maintained the pressure on La Liga leaders Barcelona with a battling 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Barca won at Eibar on Saturday to build their cushion back up to 10 points after Atletico had reduced the deficit thanks to successive draws from the Catalan giants.
An out-of-form Athletic side had frustrated the hosts for large periods at the Wanda Metropolitano and seemingly looked set to hold Atletico to a goalless draw.
It was down to Gameiro to earn Atletico their fifth straight win in all competitions, the forward drilling a shot into the bottom corner after being set up by fellow Frenchman Antoine Griezmann.
Gameiro then set up Diego Costa to mark his latest return from injury with a goal, wrapping up the points with 11 minutes to go, beating Kepa Arrizabalaga at the goalkeeper's near post.
Athletic are now winless in six games and, after they failed to create a clear chance in the game, Atleti goalkeeper Jan Oblak recorded his 16th La Liga clean sheet of the season, putting him top of the charts for Europe's top-five leagues.
4 goals and 2 assists in 8 games since making his comeback... is !!February 18, 2018
Atleti blew Copenhagen away 4-1 in the Europa League on Thursday but took until the 14th minute to record the first effort of note, Jose Gimenez directing Griezmann's free-kick wide at full stretch.
The hosts should have had a penalty, however, Unai Nunez losing his footing and bringing down Costa, only for referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez to wave away strong appeals.
Athletic failed to score in their last two La Liga games and, shorn of the attacking threats posed by suspended duo Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia, they failed to record a shot on target in the first half, with Atleti having also failed to work Kepa Arrizabalaga.
22 - Atletico have had a clean sheet at half-time in 22 La Liga games this season, more than any other side in the top five European leagues. Fortress. February 18, 2018
Costa went to ground again immediately after the restart but the referee decided a touch in the back from defender Nunez was not enough to send the striker crashing to the turf.
The Spain striker recorded the first shot on target of the match after 50 minutes, finding space in the box to volley Sime Vrsaljko's cross at goal, but Kepa saved easily to his left.
Atletico were gradually finding more space but Costa headed over, Kepa was not troubled by Angel Correa's ambitious 30-yarder and Griezmann fired wildly off-target.
Simeone turned to Gameiro to provide more spark and the striker scored within eight minutes of his introduction for the out-of-sorts Koke.
Atletico's speed of thought resulted in an overload on the right wing after Athletic stopped in expectation of winning a free-kick, with Griezmann timing and weighting the pass out to the unmarked Gameiro perfectly for his compatriot to take a touch and rifle a low shot across Kepa.
And with Athletic leaving too many gaps at the back, Gameiro slipped Costa through on goal to wrongfoot Kepa and ensure Atletico keep La Liga's title race very much alive.
Key Opta stats:
- Griezmann has assisted the last three Gameiro's goals in La Liga.
- Since his return to Atletico, Diego Costa has been involved in six goals in his eight games in all competitions (four goals and two assists).
- Atletico have kept clean sheets in 16 games in La Liga this season, more than any other team in the top 5 European Leagues (equal to Juventus).
- Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in their last 10 La Liga games against Athletic Club (W8 D2), their longest ever run without defeat against them in the top flight.
- Diego Simeone has won 13 games as a manager against Athletic in all competitions, more than he has against any other opponent as Atletico's boss.
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