Football: Lodi scores twice as Atletico beat Celta to climb to fourth in La Liga

It was sweet redemption for Renan Lodi who was not being picked by coach Diego Simeone earlier in the season. PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (REUTERS) - Brazilian defender Renan Lodi scored two goals for Atletico Madrid in a convincing 2-0 home win over Celta Vigo on Saturday (Feb 26), lifting the La Liga champions to fourth place in the standings.

Lodi opened the scoring in the 36th minute with a cross-shot that sneaked in between the goalkeeper and his right post after a long pass from Geoffrey Kondogbia.

The same combination led to Atletico's second on the hour mark as Central African Republic captain Kondogbia set up Lodi to score from close range for the first brace of his career.

The win meant leapfrogged Barcelona to fourth place in the standings on 45 points, six from second-placed Sevilla and 15 behind leaders Real Madrid, who had earlier beaten Rayo Vallecano 1-0.

It was sweet redemption for Lodi who was not being picked by coach Diego Simeone earlier in the season. He burst into tears when the crowd in the Metropolitano Stadium gave him a standing ovation as he was substituted late in the second half.

He was also one of Atletico's best players in their 1-1 draw against Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 last Wednesday.

"Lodi is a hard-working, humble player who deserves all the praise and support," Simeone said.

The Brazilian was grateful to the coach for giving him a chance to shine in a more attacking position on the pitch.

"I'm really happy for the opportunity that the coach gave me to play out of my position," Lodi said.

"I'm a left-back, that's what I do best, but if I'm needed up front like the last two matches, I'll do my best to contribute. I'm delighted that I finally had the chance to show what I'm worth."

The result meant back-to-back wins for Atletico in the league, either side of their impressive showing against United in Europe, giving them hope of rescuing their season after a disappointing start.

League leaders Real extended their advantage at the top of the standings, after a late goal from striker Karim Benzema rescued a 1-0 win at Vallecas Stadium.

Real looked slow and disjointed, and were almost held to a goalless draw until Benzema and Vinicius Jr, Real's top two scorers this season, worked their magic seven minutes from time.

The French striker found Vinicius with a brilliant through-pass and ran into space to receive the ball back and finish from close range with a single touch, scoring his 19th league goal of the season. La Liga top scorer Benzema and Vinicius have now between them scored 32 of the team's 52 goals this season.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (left) and Vinicius Jr are Real's top two scorers this season. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

"It was a complicated game mostly due to the field being in very poor condition," Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois told reporters referring to the pitch were large sections were threadbare.

"I don't think it's good for La Liga's image to play in a field like this... It's far from ideal. Good for us that Benzema and Vinicius are in-form. After four years together, they reached a level of connection that is incredible."

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