Atletico Madrid cruise past Athletic Bilbao


Antoine Griezmann scored his first hat trick for Atletico Madrid as the champions came from behind to win 4-1 at Athletic Bilbao. Mikel Rico had put the Basques ahead in the 17th minute at a highly charged San Mames, but Griezmann levelled for the champions right at the start of the second half. Tiago Mendes then won a hotly contested penalty which Raul Garcia converted, and with Athletic chasing the game, Griezmann scored twice more on the counterattack. The win was just what Atletico needed after losing ground in the title race following a 1-0 home defeat to Villarreal last week, while Athletic remain stuck in a rut, taking just a point from their last three matches. Both sides were missing key personnel through suspension – Atletico had to do without top scorer Mario Mandzukic and Koke, their most prized midfield asset, while Athletic were without holding midfielder Ander Iturraspe and Aymeric Laporte, the latter sent off in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad. The first half saw plenty of tough challenges but few clear goalscoring chances. The visitors could not hit the target in the first 45 minutes, their only opportunity a hopeless effort from Raul Garcia from the halfway line which barely left the ground. Athletic could also produce just one chance but they made it count – as Rico rose above the Atletico defenders to head Markel Susaeta's free-kick into the far corner. Atletico have conceded first in each of their three visits to the new San Mames but have run out winners on each occasion, and they made a rampant start to the second half, levelling just 30 seconds after the break. After a series of headers from both sides the ball dropped to Juanfran on the right hand side and Griezmann broke free from his marker to head the full-back's arching cross into the net. Atletico had a new spring in their step after equalising and it was not long before they took the lead, even if they benefited from a questionable refereeing decision. Tiago cut into the box and when he was faced with an onrushing Mikel San Jose appeared to run over the midfielder's leg and fell to the floor. The referee pointed to the spot and was quickly surrounded by five indignant Athletic players, but Garcia was unmoved by the tense situation, calmly sending Gorka Iraizoz the wrong way from the spot. Athletic then enjoyed a lot of possession but were unable to trouble Miguel Angel Moya, and were soon left cursing their luck again as they conceded a third goal in under half an hour. The hosts lost possession around the halfway line and an untimely slip from Athletic captain Carlos Gurpegi allowed Griezmann to get on the end of a long ball from Gabi and the forward held off a challenge from Oscar de Marcos to strike the ball high into the near corner. But the former Real Sociedad forward had not finished inflicting pain on his old club's local rivals. With nine minutes remaining, the Frenchman raced onto a low pass by Arda Turan and unselfishly squared the ball to Garcia, but the ball bounced back across the goal and Griezmann nudged in his third goal of the night.