Atletico Madrid closed back to within seven points of Barcelona thanks to Alvaro Morata's quickfire brace in a 2-0 win at Real Socieded on Sunday.
Spain striker Morata opened his Atletico account in last weekend's victory over Villarreal and boosted his tally to three goals in two games with a pair of headers in the space of three first-half minutes.
Diego Simeone's side needed three points to stay in touch with LaLiga leader Barca, which edged Real Madrid 1-0 in El Clasico on Saturday, and had to complete the job with 10 men after Koke received a second yellow in the 62nd minute.
But the home side, unbeaten in its 10 previous outings across all competitions, failed to make the advantage count and could not keep the Rojiblancos from moving five points clear of their city rivals.
Morata passed up two early opportunities but did not take long to find his scoring groove.
Diego Godin flicked on a Thomas Lemar corner and the on-loan striker stooped to head in the opener in the 30th minute.
Then, from Koke's inviting right-sided free-kick, the 26-year-old timed his leap well and nodded past Geronimo Rulli, putting the visitor firmly in command at half-time.
It looked likely to go untroubled until midfielder Koke, already walking a tightrope after his first-half foul on Theo Hernandez, foolishly earned a second booking for impeding Joseba Zaldua's progress.
Socieded eventually worked Jan Oblak in the 76th minute, the Slovenia international diving to his right to parry a smart Mikel Merino header.
But the goalkeeper otherwise had precious little to do as Atletico comfortably navigated the closing exchanges, ensuring Imanol Alguacil's men remain stuck in eighth.
What does it mean? Atletico not losing focus
Atletico is poised to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals after sweeping aside Juventus at the Wanda Metropolitano last month but the dizzying heights of that first-leg triumph have not blurred its domestic focus. It was typically well organised at Anoeta - a venue that has not been kind in previous seasons - and is evidently fully fixed on not throwing away LaLiga in favour of its European ambitions.
Morata flourishing as focal point
Unlike at Chelsea, where he struggled to exert a physical presence, Morata now looks to have the confidence needed to be a dominant centre-forward. His twin headers required skill and determination in equal measure.
Koke invites unnecessary pressure
Koke had been one of the key figures in putting Atletico on course for what seemed certain to be a straightforward victory. However, his foolish decision to dive in on Zaldua when already in the referee's book gave rise to a small measure of Sociedad hope.
Key Opta facts
- Alvaro Morata is the second player to score two headed goals in the same LaLiga game this season, after Girona’s Cristhian Stuani vs Espanyol in November.
- Atletico Madrid has scored more opening goals than any other side in LaLiga this season (18).
- Only Leonardo Pavoletti (17) and Cristhian Stuani (16) have scored more headed goals than Atletico’s Alvaro Morata (15) in Europe’s top five leagues in the past three seasons.
- Atletico Madrid has won back-to-back LaLiga away games for the first time this season. The last time it won back-to-back away trips in the competition was in its final two away games of the 2017-18 season.
Atletico returns home to host Leganes next Saturday before the Champions League trip to Turin, while Sociedad has an additional day's rest ahead of its visit to Sevilla.
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