No panic for Atletico after first loss this season
MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid have been reminded of just how challenging this season's La Liga is going to be after falling to fifth place following their first defeat of the season, a 1-0 setback at Sevilla.
So tightly packed is the title race that Sunday's loss has left Diego Simeone's side three points behind leaders Real Madrid, two adrift of second-top Sevilla and one behind Barcelona and Villarreal, who are third and fourth, respectively.
"Sevilla and the other teams that are currently high up in the standings can also fight for the title," Atletico captain Gabi said to Spanish radio Cadena Ser. "They (Sevilla) are headed in the right direction but it's early."
Barca nearly dropped two points against the Valencia side, which is in the lower echelon of the standings but got a late penalty from talisman Lionel Messi.
Villarreal have yet to lose after coming from behind at home against Las Palmas and getting a stoppage-time goal from Cedric Bakambu.
Real were 2-1 winners at home over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
According to Gabi, a 33-year-old midfielder, there should be no loss of confidence in the Atletico squad. Sevilla had, after all, won all of their previous encounters at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium this season.
"The team is on the right path," Gabi said. "We just have to continue to improve. "We knew Sevilla's strengths and it was a very level game. We had the right game plan but the team that was more efficient won."
Steven N'Zonzi's second-half goal at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium ended Atletico's 11-game unbeaten run and five-game winning streak.
"We had three or four chances in the opening half and we didn't make them," Gabi said. "If you are not decisive in these evenly balanced games, then in the end you pay for it.
"We must congratulate Sevilla," he said.
Atletico went into the encounter in Sevilla after Wednesday's 1-0 victory at Rostov in the Champions League but Gabi says his team was not affected by the long trip to Russia.
"We are not a side that finds excuses," he said. "We tried our best and we played as we always do. We just need to move on, stick to this path and aim to win the next game."
Atletico play at home to Malaga on Saturday before hosting Rostov in the Champions League on November 1.
(Reporting by Adriana Garcia; Editing by Tom Heneghan)