Real held, Villarreal beat Atletico to lead La Liga for first time

Barcelona star Lionel Messi in distress after hurting his left knee during the 2-1 win against Las Palmas. Barca later confirmed that the Argentinian had torn the internal collateral ligament of his knee and will be out for eight weeks.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi in distress after hurting his left knee during the 2-1 win against Las Palmas. Barca later confirmed that the Argentinian had torn the internal collateral ligament of his knee and will be out for eight weeks. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Villarreal forward Leo Baptistao jumping with joy while celebrating his winner with his team-mates. The result means they lead Barcelona by a point and Real Madrid by two.
Villarreal forward Leo Baptistao jumping with joy while celebrating his winner with his team-mates. The result means they lead Barcelona by a point and Real Madrid by two.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Villarreal lead La Liga for the first time in their 92-year history after they defeated Atletico Madrid, while Real Madrid were held 0-0 by 10-man Malaga on Saturday.

Undefeated Villarreal went top with a 1-0 win courtesy of a goal from Leo Baptistao, who is on loan from Atletico. He finished clinically, having been found by Roberto Soldado inside the area after 14 minutes.

The best chances for a below-par Atletico fell to Antoine Griezmann at the end of each half, but he was denied by goalkeeper Alphonse Areola as Villarreal secured their fifth straight win.

They are the surprise leaders with 16 points from six games, a point more than Barcelona, who beat Las Palmas 2-1, and two ahead of Real Madrid. Both Madrid sides will head into next weekend's derby with disappointing results.

Real pushed forward from the start in their match against Malaga but a combination of fine goalkeeping from Carlos Kameni and near misses prevented them from breaking the deadlock.

Malaga's most dangerous player Nordin Amrabat was sent off for elbowing Marcelo after 76 minutes, but Real could not find a way through.

It was a frustrating match for Cristiano Ronaldo and his fellow forwards. Despite taking 31 shots, Real failed to score at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time in 56 matches.

Real manager Rafael Benitez blamed anxiety for the goal-less affair. "When a team stay back as happened in the second half, it makes it difficult to find space but still we had the openings," he told a press conference.

"You have to manage the anxiety. When you make mistakes, the other side will look to take advantage by counter-attacking."

Isco, who was lively for Real and stretched the Malaga defence, had the best chance of the first half when he volleyed a deep Marcelo cross just wide of the post.

Kameni was a rock at the back, making a series of saves including a block from a Ronaldo volley after the break that left the Portuguese looking skywards.

When the Cameroonian was finally beaten by an Isco shot, Weligton was behind him to clear the ball off the line.

Real have now dropped four points in their opening six league games owing to two goal-less draws, after opening their campaign with a stalemate at Sporting Gijon.

"Obviously it isn't something we like but when you look at the two games and the number of shots on goal and chances we've had, the only thing you can do is take your chances and keep our head in the last five minutes," said Benitez.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Real held, Villarreal beat Atletico to lead La Liga for first time'. Print Edition | Subscribe