Madrid: A Luis Suarez header gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 home win over Getafe on Wednesday in coach Diego Simeone's 500th game in charge, moving them two points clear at the top of La Liga with two games in hand.
The Uruguayan glanced in a lofted pass from Yannick Carrasco to put Atletico ahead in the 20th minute and they ground out the win to preserve their remarkable record of never conceding a goal to Getafe since Simeone became coach nine years ago.
A third consecutive league victory took Atletico on to 35 points after 14 games, two ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, who drew 1-1 at Elche and have now played 16 matches.
A header from Luka Modric gave the champions the lead in the 20th minute but Elche found a way back into the game when Fidel Chaves levelled from the penalty spot early in the second half.
Both sides had chances to take all three points, with Elche forward Lucas Boye striking the post, while Real defenders Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos were thwarted by fine saves from the home side's keeper Edgar Badia.
Elche had a last-gasp chance to win the game when they earned a free-kick in added time, but defender Gonzalo Verdu's shot was tipped away by Real keeper Thibaut Courtois.The draw halted a six-match winning streak in all competitions for Real.
Getafe, who challenged for a top-four finish in the previous two seasons, are down in 14th place on 17 points, two above the relegation zone.
Atletico went into the match after being a dealt a double setback of Kieran Trippier being suspended for 10 weeks for a betting infraction and Diego Costa leaving the club after rescinding his contract.
The absences did not seem to affect them, however, and even though this was far from their most impressive performance of the season, they always looked in control and ended the year with an unbeaten home record in all competitions.
"It's not easy to play well in every game and our opponents also played well and needed to pick up points. But even on days when you do not play well, you have to win," said Simeone.
Atletico captain Koke admitted his side had not been at their best but hailed their performances throughout the year, in particular since emerging from the three-month coronavirus stoppage.
"We knew who we were up against a difficult team and we weren't always precise with our passes but it's three more points, which is what we wanted before the game," Koke said.
"We've had a spectacular year, after the lockdown we underwent a big change and took a step forward in the way we play, working and competing day in day out."
He also paid tribute to Argentine Simeone, who has transformed Atletico's fortunes since succeeding Gregorio Manzano in 2011.
"We should congratulate the coach, it's a lot of years in charge he's given the team a lot of stability and he's fundamental to the way we are," Koke said.