Bilbao holds Atlético to 0-0; Falcao nets in Rayo debut
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Diego Simeone joined soccer’s coaching elite by building rock-hard defenses that grind out victories with the bare minimum of flash up front.
But now, with the greatest wealth of attacking talent in his decade in charge of Atletico Madrid, the Argentine is struggling to make that flash up front click.
Ten-man Atlético was held to a second straight scoreless draw at home on Saturday after it was stymied by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league.
Atlético, which has not scored more than two goals in any of its six games this season, was also held to 0-0 by Porto at home in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.
And this despite Antoine Griezmann’s return to the club to strengthen an attack that also counts on Luis Suárez, João Félix, Ángel Correa, Marcos Llorente, Yannick Carrasco, and newcomer Matheus Cunha.
“I won’t look for excuses,” Simeone said. “I believe in my team and in my players, and we are going to work hard so that these big names can do what they have always done, which is score goals.”
Atlético was without midfielder Koke Resurrección, the midfielder who leads the defending champion’s transitions from defense to attack, after he hurt a leg muscle against Porto.
Llorente went closest for the hosts when his 75th-minute shot from outside the area hit the post.
Three minutes later, Atlético was left a man down when Félix earned back-to-back yellow cards. The referee first booked him for swatting a defender who was clinging to his jersey from behind. Félix, who was not looking at the player when his hand impacted his face, got a quick second booking when he vehemently protested.
Bilbao almost took advantage of the numerical superiority, but substitute Asier Villalibre wasted a perfect opportunity to grab an injury-time winner when he shot high with only goalkeeper Jan Olbak to beat from close.
Atlético took a one-point lead at the top of the standings, but Real Madrid, Valencia and Real Sociedad can overtake it on Sunday.
Griezmann made his first start since returning to Atlético on loan from Barcelona. The France forward’s only scoring chance came in the opening minutes when he flicked a cross by Llorente high and wide. He was replaced by Suárez early in the second half.
Atlético and Bilbao both remained undefeated through five rounds.
Former Atlético star Radamel Falcao enjoyed a perfect debut for Rayo Vallecano, scoring 10 minutes after going on as a late substitute to complete a 3-0 win over Getafe in a derby between the Spanish capital’s two more modest clubs.
The veteran striker went on as a 71st-minute substitute with Rayo ahead 1-0. Midfielder Pathé Ciss doubled the lead shortly before he set up Falcao with a pass for the Colombian to score from an angle.
The 35-year-old Falcao signed with Rayo this month as a free agent.
“I had dreamed of being able to go out there and score a goal,” Falcao said. “My teammates have given me a lot of support. I feel right at home.”
Many Rayo fans recall Falcao’s two seasons with Atlético from 2011-13, when he helped it win the Europa League and the Copa del Rey. He went on to Monaco, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Galatasaray, where he played until the end of last season.
Javier Pastore, formerly of Paris Saint-Germain and Roma, debuted for Elche as a substitute as it drew at home with Levante 1-1.
Levante forward José Morales cancelled out Lucas Pérez’s opener for Elche.
Osasuna continued its strong start and moved into sixth place after David García and Roberto Torres scored in a 2-0 win at Alavés.
Alavés was left in last place with zero points.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports