Diego Simeone made no excuses after Atletico Madrid slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Levante and urged his side to respond to a first home loss since December 2019.
Atleti could have gone nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a victory, but their 22-match unbeaten top-flight run at the Wanda Metropolitano was brought to a halt on Saturday.
A deflected first-half strike from Jose Luis Morales put Levante in front and Jorge de Frutos sealed a shock win right at the end when he found an empty net from long range with Jan Oblak up for a corner.
Real Madrid can cut their city rivals’ advantage to only three points, albeit having played a game more, in the title race if they beat Real Valladolid later in the day.
Atleti had been held to a 1-1 draw at Levante three days earlier and endured more frustration at the hands of the same opponents, with Luis Suarez hitting the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira having a goal ruled out.
Simeone says there is no need to reach for the panic button after watching his side lose in LaLiga for only the second time this season.
3 – @LevanteUDen‘s Paco López is one of three managers to win a LaLiga away game against both Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid in a single season in the last decade (Luis Enrique Martínez in 2015/16 and 2016/17 & Pep Guardiola in 2011/12). Boss. pic.twitter.com/r4NlkV29oX
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 20, 2021
The Atleti boss said: “I’m not looking for excuses. Coaches have to find solutions. In the second half we did it and we have to be the ones who help the players who are out there.
“Championships are always the same, everyone has moments of difficulties. Those who are strong in the bad moments are the one who achieve their goals.”
The former Argentina midfielder added: “When you look for a goal it is important to get there, it is wonderful.
“There are obstacles. It is logical to find obstacles and then when you achieve the goal you enjoy it much more.”
There were positives for Simeone, as Moussa Dembele made his debut off the bench and Thomas Lemar returned after recovering from coronavirus.
However, Jose Gimenez was withdrawn with a muscular injury three days before Atleti face Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.