BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — For a second straight season, Atlético Madrid has been ousted by a third-tier opponent in the Copa del Rey.
The Spanish league leaders lost 1-0 at Barcelona-based club Cornellà in the round of 32 on Wednesday after a toothless performance.
Last season, Atlético lost 2-1 to third-tier team Cultural Leonesa in the cup competition.
Coach Diego Simeone acknowledged that “it is the second year in a row” that his team has flopped against a team with a fraction of the budget his club enjoys.
“Our rivals have played better,” Simeone said. “We had some good attacking moves, but overall our rival (Cornellà) always played better. They took advantage of the set piece and got their goal. It was even more uphill after the sending off. Now we have to find solutions.”
Atlético is not alone in getting caught off-guard. Third-tier sides also ousted topflight teams Celta Vigo and Getafe on Tuesday.
But Atlético has been the biggest victim of the change in format of the Copa del Rey two seasons ago. Before last season, each round was played over two legs, giving bigger clubs chances to come back at home if they slipped up away. Now, all rounds except for the semifinals are played in one leg at the lower-seeded side.
This season has also provided a couple of possible advantages for Spain's smallest clubs to help compensate the huge budgetary and talent gap they face. Third-tier and lower clubs have been able to let some fans back in their stadiums this season, while clubs in the first and second divisions have been kept without fans at their stadiums since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The biggest clubs are also facing a condensed schedule to fit in games after the season started late due to the health crisis, giving them less time to rest and prepare.
Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui and Real Betis counterpart Manuel Pellegrini, whose teams beat third-tier sides this week, both complained about the difference of criteria between the stadiums for big and small clubs.
Still, a team like Atlético had no business losing at Cornellà, a club based in a working-class neighbors on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Atlético is the front-runner to win the league title. It has only lost once in 15 rounds in the Spanish league and is set to face Chelsea in the Champions League’s round of 16 in February.
Cornellà, meanwhile, has had a ho-hum season in its group in the third tier, with three wins, two draws and four losses leaving it in seventh place.
Even before the visitors lost defender Ricardo Sánchez to a second booking in the 65th minute, they had not proven to be superior.
Cornellà defender Adrian Jiménez scored the game’s only goal in the eighth minute from a cross by Agus Medina to the near post.
Atlético was never comfortable on Cornellà’s artificial turf. The closest it came to equalizing was Saúl Ñíguez’s shot off the woodwork midway through the first half.
Atlético lost center back José Giménez after he injured his left ankle early on. João Félix also left the match in the second half after he hurt an ankle.
Cornellà coach Guillermo Fernández told Simeone he “was sorry” for the result.
“I said what I felt,” Fernández said after the match. “For these clubs, which are under so much pressure, these matches are very uncomfortable. For us today is a special day. I said before the match we would need to play an exceptional match, and that is what we did -- and we had that bit of luck we needed.”
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