BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — João Félix kept up his fine scoring form to help Atlético Madrid beat Cádiz 2-1 at home in the Spanish league on Friday before Diego Simeone’s team heads to Manchester United for their Champions League decider.
After struggling for most of the season, Atlético is playing at its best in months with a run of four straight wins in the domestic league only interrupted by its 1-1 home draw with United two weeks ago.
Atlético will visit Old Trafford on Tuesday for the second leg of their round-of-16 matchup.
“We are entering the final stretch of the season, when it is even more important to win,” Simeone said, while downplaying any positive effect the win could have on the next match.
“It is important for the league and only the league. The Champions League is another competition. On Sunday and Monday we will start getting motivated for it.”
Félix got his fifth goal in as many matches after scoring early to set Atlético on its way to another win.
The 22-year-old forward intercepted a poor pass by Cádiz goalkeeper Jeremías Ledesma and calmly curled in a strike from a tight angle just two minutes into the match. It was his fifth goal in as many matches.
The hosts were almost left with 10 men in the 40th when Reinildo Mandava was shown a red card for a low tackle, but the referee changed it to a yellow card after a video review.
Álvaro Negredo pulled Cádiz level just before halftime when he headed in a cross by Pacha Espino. Atlético’s defense lost track of Cádiz’s veteran striker with four attacking players flooding the box.
Seeing his attack struggling, Simeone sent on Luis Suárez and Ángel Correa for Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco with half an hour left.
Suárez and Correa played a part in Rodrigo de Paul’s winner. Suárez passed to Correa, whose shot was blocked by Ledesma, only for the ball to fall into the path of De Paul charging into the box. The Argentina midfielder steered the ball into the corner of the net.
But Atlético needed a defensive stop by center back José Giménez to protect the victory. Giménez used his head to parry a shot by Luis Hernández after a poor clearance attempt by goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Atlético briefly ended up with 10 players after substitute Javi Serrano saw a direct red after tackling Álex Fernández with two minutes remaining.
The referee also sent off two members of Cádiz’s staff from the dugout, apparently for protesting in the final minutes.
Atlético moved into third place ahead of Barcelona. The defending champions are 12 points behind leader Real Madrid and four behind Sevilla in second.
Cádiz remained in the relegation zone.