BARCELONA, Spain — Substitute João Félix returned from injury and scored his first goal in more than two months to help Atlético Madrid get back in the fight for a Champions League berth on Sunday.
Atlético’s 3-1 comeback win over Villarreal lifted the team into third place in the Spanish league. The top four play in Europe’s top club competition next season.
Atlético is level on points with fourth-place Sevilla, which leapfrogged Getafe by dealing the season's surprise team a stinging 3-0 home defeat.
Félix had missed four matches while recovering from a right-leg muscle injury.
He went on in the 57th with Atlético leading 2-1. Felix put the result beyond doubt with a powerful left-footed strike in the 74th, after Atlético's pressure recovered the ball near the area.
The positive performance by Félix comes with Atlético flying high after it beat Liverpool 1-0 in their opening leg in the Champions League’s round of 16 on Tuesday.
“The victory against Liverpool has given us a lot of confidence to take on what is left in store this season,” goalscorer Ángel Correa said.
Félix joined the Spanish team from Benfica in the summer on a club record transfer of 126 million euros (then $143 million). But after a promising start, the 20-year-old Felix had struggled to make his presence felt in attack.
The goal was Félix’s fifth of the season and his first since scoring in a 2-0 win over Lokomotiv in the Champions League in December.
Paco Alcácer opened for Villarreal in the 16th. Correa levelled in the 40th before he assisted Jorge “Koke” Resurrección to head the hosts in front in the 64th.
Atlético defender Kieran Trippier also returned from injury as a second-half substitute.
Atlético and Sevilla are 12 points behind leader Barcelona, which is two points ahead of Real Madrid before the title rivals meet next weekend.
“Félix had a good return,” said Atlético manager Diego Simeone, who watched the match from a stadium box at the Wanda Metropolitano as he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards for protesting.
“We saw it yesterday in practice. He showed signs of being stronger, more confident, and more incisive. We are happy he is back, we need all the competition on the squad we can get.”
SEVILLA DIGS IN
Sevilla beat Getafe at its own game, out-muscling the hosts with a suffocating defence and demonstrating clinical finishing to convert its scant scoring chances.
Sevilla forward Lucas Ocampos broke the deadlock two minutes before halftime after Oghenekaro Etebo slipped while trying to clear the ball from Getafe’s area. Sevilla’s Sergio Reguilón pounced on the ball and squared a pass for Ocampos to tap in for his eighth league goal of the campaign.
“The error decided the match,” said Getafe coach José Boradalás. “It came in an important moment psychologically speaking ... They are a strong team and after they scored for 2-0 from a free kick my team lost its fight.”
Midfielder Fernando doubled the lead in the 67th before he set up Jules Koundé to seal the victory in the 75th.
Sevilla lost goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik to an apparent leg injury before the second half started. He was replaced by Yassine Bounou, who was never tested.
The victory ended Sevilla’s five-game winless streak across all competitions that put coach Julen Lopetegui under growing pressure to restore the team’s good form from the first half of the season.
Getafe has had an outstanding campaign, fighting for a Champions League spot for next season despite its modest budget.
Getafe’s loss was just its fourth at home in any competition this season. It lost in the last round away at Barcelona, but had bounced back with a 2-0 win over Ajax in the Europa League on Thursday.
Barcelona says right back Sergi Roberto has injured his right thigh and will miss Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 match at Napoli.
Nelson Semedo will likely take his place in the starting 11 for the first leg.
Alavés fought back to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 in a game decided by Rodrigo Ely’s goal in injury time.
Alavés striker Lucas Pérez converted a penalty to cancel out Raúl García´s opener for Bilbao before he passed for Ely to get the winner.
The rivals remained around the middle of the table.
Darwin Machís fired in two early goals to lead Granada to a 3-0 win at Osasuna.
Valladolid beat 10-man Espanyol 2-1 to leave the Barcelona-based side in last place.
Espanyol lost defender David López in the 25th minute after a second yellow card.
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