Diego Costa and David Villa delivered again for Atletico Madrid, whose La Liga title charge continued to gain strength on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao.
Villa enjoyed Atletico’s best opportunities at the Vicente Calderon and put the hosts ahead after 32 minutes by volleying Juanfran’s headed cross through the crowded penalty area and into the goal.
Nine minutes later, Koke delivered a perfect ball to Costa, who cut back to dribble around Erik Moran and fire a low shot beyond goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz for his joint league-leading 13th goal of the season.
Bilbao rarely threatened and they were reduced to 10 men in the 81st minute when Erik Moran was shown a second yellow.
“The team showed great rhythm right from the start and from the first 15 minutes on we dominated the game,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
The victory put Atletico Madrid just a point behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.
“We’re not frustrated that Barcelona keep winning. We’re just happy to keep competing with them after so many rounds,” Simeone said.
Also on Sunday, Valencia lifted some of the pressure off coach Miroslav Djukic with their first win in five rounds, a 1-0 victory at Getafe.
Granada scored in stoppage-time for a 1-0 win at Levante UD, while Malaga also needed a stoppage-time winner from a late substitute to beat Real Betis Balompie 3-2.
Costa, the Brazilian-born, naturalized Spaniard, has spearheaded Atletico’s title credentials so far this season, but it was captain Gabi who first tested Iraizoz in the 18th minute and the Basque goalie made an outstanding reaction save to a low drive.
Costa then showed how dangerous he is when given space in front of goal as he moved freely down the left side to poke a shot past Iraizoz, but also beyond the far post.
Atletico controlled a physical game and were inching closer to an opener when Iraizoz made another reaction save to deny Villa’s powerful half-volley in the 26th minute.
However, Iraizoz could not keep out the Spanish striker’s shot from almost the same spot moments later, as Villa’s sixth goal of the season made it 1-0.
Koke has been instrumental in Costa’s scoring run and the Spain midfielder again set up the striker to add the second, putting him even with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the La Liga scoring chart.
“He’s such a great player who is growing in every area,” Simeone said of Costa, who had chances to score several more in the closing stages. “He’s getting better in every aspect, from recovering the ball, controlling it, his movement, and that is helping the team play better.”
Valencia had lost three straight before the game at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, but an impressive first-half strike from Dorlan Pabon sealed the morale-boosting victory.
The Colombian striker unleashed a powerful shot from long range in the 40th minute that flew beyond goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya into the left corner.
Levante had a penalty in the 25th minute, but midfielder Nabil El Zhar saw his spot-kick saved by Granada goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez.
That left the game scoreless until Keylor Navas was beaten by Piti’s free-kick, although Granada teammate Manuel Iturra likely distracted the Levante goalkeeper as he stood alone between him and the defensive wall as the ball spun over and in.
Meanwhile, Roque Santa Cruz and Eliseu put Malaga ahead in each half, only for Betis’ Joan Verdu to cancel out the opener with a 33rd-minute free-kick, before Jordi Figueras equalized again with an angled header in the 61st.