Levante UD moved to the top of the La Liga standings for the first time ever after beating Villarreal 3-0 for their sixth consecutive win on Sunday.
The modest club, who have the smallest budget in Spain’s top division, extended their record start to move one point ahead of Real Madrid and two points ahead of defending champions Barcelona.
Forward Juanlu Gomez scored twice before halftime at El Madrigal and striker Arouna Kone added another after the restart as Levante repeatedly caught Villarreal flatfooted on the counterattack.
Defender Sergio Ballesteros cleared Giuseppe Rossi’s late shot off his line to ensure Levante kept a fifth clean sheet of the season.
Undefeated Levante, who two seasons ago were playing in the second division, had little trouble adding lackluster Villarreal to their list of victims that includes Madrid and big-spending Malaga.
“This team continues to grow and to demonstrate that it believes in what it does, something which is key to competing at this level,” said manager Juan Ignacio Martinez, who had never coached in Spain’s top division until joining Levante this summer. “Being leaders of a league with so many big teams is something very special. Even so, we must keep working with our feet firmly on the ground and remember that the season is very long.”
Earlier, Roberto Soldado’s late goal salvaged a 1-1 draw for Valencia against Athletic Bilbao, while Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 with RCD Mallorca.
After an evenly matched first half with both teams hitting the post, Iker Muniain scored Bilbao’s 72nd-minute opener when he deftly dribbled across the edge of the area before shooting powerfully into the right corner of the net.
Bilbao appeared set to record their third straight league win before Soldado reached Ever Banega’s pass, beat goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz with one touch and rolled home the equalizer in the 89th minute for his sixth goal of the season.
“Just when we were playing at our best they scored, but we didn’t give up and we were able to pull out the draw,” Soldado said.
The game saw Valencia midfielder Sergio Canales and Bilbao veteran Carlos Gurpegi both helped off the pitch with leg injuries.
At the Vicente Calderon, visitors Mallorca went ahead two minutes in through Israel striker Tomer Hemed’s fourth spot-kick in the last three matches.
Radamel Falcao pulled Atletico even with a penalty of his own in the 42nd minute after he was fouled in the area to end a three-game scoring drought for his team in the league.
“It wasn’t in our plans to draw today,” said Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano, whose team extended their winless streak to four league games. “It was a tough game for us. We were facing a well-organized defense that left us very few spaces.”
It was Mallorca’s second consecutive draw since coach Joaquin Caparros took over following the stormy departure of Michael Laudrup.
Also on Sunday, CA Osasuna beat Real Zaragoza 3-0, Rayo Vallecano de Madrid scored two late goals to down Real Betis Balompie 2-0 and Getafe drew 0-0 at Real Sociedad.
Osasuna needed half an hour to decide the contest at the Estadio Reyno de Navarra.
Raul Garcia set Osasuna on the way to their first win in six games in the 18th minute, before flicking on a throw-in for Juan “Nino” Martinez to finish off nine minutes later.
Iran midfielder Javad Nekounam put the victory beyond doubt in the 30th minute when he headed in Nino’s cross.
In Sevilla, Betis failed to convert a number of scoring chances and Rayo’s Lass Bangoura capped his strong performance in the 80th minute when he coolly chipped Betis goalkeeper Casto Barriga.
“Lass is a player who is giving his all for this team and adapting very well,” Rayo coach Jose Sandoval said about the 19-year-old Guinean winger.
Sergio Contreras then sealed Betis’ fourth straight loss in the 88th minute from the penalty spot.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
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‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
‘GREAT COMPETITOR’: Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was tested by American teenager Coco Gauff, before the Spaniard advanced in three sets Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Thursday cruised into the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia by handing their Japanese opponents a rare “double bagel,” a feat matched by US Open losing finalist Victoria Azarenka in the women’s singles. Top seeds Hsieh and Strycova took just 49 minutes to see off the challenge of Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-0, 6-0 on the clay courts at the Foro Italico in Rome. The Taiwanese-Czech duo saved both break points they faced and converted six of 14, winning 62 percent of their first