Rüdiger scores as Real Madrid edges Mallorca to secure Spanish league lead
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid and Girona extended their impressive runs to reach the halfway point of the Spanish league season at the top of the standings.
Both teams won on Wednesday to reach 48 points after 19 games, with third-place Atletico Madrid 10 points back. Real Madrid was ahead of Girona on a tiebreaker. Barcelona can move within seven points of the leaders if it wins at Las Palmas on Thursday.
Madrid edged Mallorca 1-0 at home with a late goal by Antonio Rüdiger in a match that marked the return of Vinícius Júnior from injury.
Girona, the surprise team in Spanish soccer this season, defeated Atletico 4-3 with a winner by Iván Martín in stoppage time.
Álvaro Morata scored a hat trick for Atletico, while Antoine Griezmann was held scoreless to remain tied with Luis Aragonés as the club’s all-time top scorer with 173 goals.
THRILLER IN GIRONA
Faced with another difficult challenge, Girona rose to the occasion yet again, overcoming Diego Simeone's Atletico to show it can be considered a genuine title contender.
Martín scored the winning goal one minute into stoppage time, firing a left-footed shot into the top corner after fending off a series of Atletico defenders inside the area.
The hosts led 3-1 until Morata capped his hat trick with an equalizer in the 54th. Valery Fernández, Savinho and Daley Blind scored Girona's other goals at Montilivi Stadium.
The team coached by Míchel has the league's best attack with 46 goals, four more than Madrid's. Girona has 15 wins, three draws and a lone loss coming against Madrid.
It went on a 13-match unbeaten streak in all competitions since that 3-0 defeat to Madrid at home in September. Last month, it earned a convincing 4-2 win at defending champion Barcelona.
“We will keep going match by match," Martín said. “We are close to securing a European place, but we have to keep this momentum and try to win as many points as possible. Then at the end of the season we'll see where we are.”
MADRID KEEPS PUSHING
Vinícius was back in action after an absence of nearly two months because of a muscle injury, but the Spanish powerhouse struggled in attack until Rüdiger broke the deadlock with a header into the top corner after a well-placed corner kick taken by Luka Modric in the 78th minute.
"I’m very happy because it was an important goal and an important three points for us,” Rüdiger said.
The result extended Madrid’s unbeaten streak to 18 matches in all competitions, since a 3-1 league loss at Atletico in September. That was the team’s lone loss in a season in which it has won 21 matches and drawn three.
Mallorca, which twice hit the woodwork at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, stayed in 14th place, four points from the relegation zone. The team coached by Mexican manager Javier Aguirre had won two of its last three league matches — against Sevilla and Osasuna.
Vinícius hadn’t played since November, when he injured a leg muscle while playing a World Cup qualifier with Brazil. He had a couple of clear chances on Wednesday but didn't capitalize on them.
Madrid also had the return of defender Dani Carvajal, but coach Carlo Ancelotti remained without several key players because of long-term knee injuries, including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defenders David Alaba and Éder Militão.
Celta Vigo defeated Real Betis 2-1 at home with a winner by Swedish teenager Williot Swedberg six minutes into stoppage time.
The result took Celta out of the relegation zone. The Vigo team has won two of its last three league matches after enduring a 12-game winless run in the competition.
Real Betis, winless in five consecutive matches in all competitions, stayed in seventh place.
In a match between two teams in the relegation zone, 19th-place Granada defeated 18th-place Cadiz 2-0 at home.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer