Atletico Madrid’s record signing Joao Felix scored for the first time in the league for almost five months as his side beat Villarreal 3-1 at home on Sunday to climb back into the top-four in La Liga.
The 20-year-old, who Atletico signed from Benfica for €126 million last year, had missed most of the last month through injury but came off the bench to score his side’s third goal after Paco Alcacer had given Villarreal an early lead.
Argentine forward Angel Correa pulled Atletico level shortly before half-time while captain Koke put them in front in the 64th minute before substitute Felix rubber-stamped the win with a low shot from just outside the area 10 minutes later.
The win followed Atletico’s impressive 1-0 victory at home to Champions League holders Liverpool in Tuesday’s last-16 first leg and took Diego Simeone’s side into third in the standings, level with fourth-placed Sevilla on 43 points after 25 games.
Villarreal would have gone above Atletico had they won but instead they stayed seventh on 38 points.
“It was very important for us to get the three points because we knew that our rivals had got good results,” said goalscorer Correa, referring to Sevilla beating Getafe earlier in the day.
“We want to be fighting near the top of the table so we are very happy with this result.”
Atletico have struggled for large parts of this season but went into the game lifted by the victory over Liverpool, in which the team had embraced their old, abrasive style of play.
There was added optimism with the return of Felix as well as right back Kieran Trippier, who had recently undergone surgery to treat a groin problem but was named on the substitutes’ bench alongside the Portuguese forward.
Alcacer, however, punctured the positive mood at the Wanda Metropolitano by putting Villarreal in front with a powerful strike from outside the box, scoring for the second time in four league games since his move from Borussia Dortmund.
Atletico could not rely on Simeone to whip the home fans up, as he was serving a one-match touchline ban but the home side managed to turn the game around with the help of Correa, who has been their most consistent performer in a troubled season.
The Argentine prodded home a lofted ball from Sime Vrsaljko to draw Atletico level then laid on the pass for Koke to head Atletico in front from close range after good work from substitute Trippier.
The home fans soon found their voice and Felix lifted them further with his strike.
“The win over Liverpool has given us confidence and strength for the final stretch of the season,” added Correa.
“Liverpool are the best team in the world, they haven’t lost in the league for over a year so beating them brought us immense happiness.”