MADRID - Valencia hammered local rivals
Villarreal 5-0 at the Mestalla on Sunday to strengthen their
grip on third place and the last automatic Champions League
qualification slot in La Liga.
Two goals apiece from Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado either
side of an Ever Banega strike moved Valencia on to 60 points
with seven matches left to play, six ahead of fourth-placed
Champions Barcelona are top with 84 points after coming back
to beat Almeria 3-1 with a double from Lionel Messi on Saturday.
Barca maintained their eight-point advantage over chasing
Real Madrid, who were 3-0 winners at Athletic Bilbao where Kaka
scored two penalties. Real host the leaders next Saturday.
Valencia striker Soldado broke away to open the scoring in
the 13th minute after an interception in midfield, and the hosts
never allowed the visitors settle into their trademark passing
Spain winger Mata streaked away to double the advantage in
the 55th and Villarreal crumbled with Thursday's 5-1 Europa
League quarter-final first leg victory over Twente perhaps
taking its toll.
Banega scored from a Pablo Hernandez pull-back, Mata tapped
into an open goal and Soldado lobbed Diego Lopez to complete the
rout in the 76th.
Europa League holders Atletico moved closer to a return to
the competition next season with a crushing win over Real
Sociedad at the Calderon which could have been much bigger.
Filipe Luis opened the scoring with a fierce drive early on,
Jose Antonio Reyes produced a wonderful piece of skill to set up
Mario Suarez before the break and Argentina's Sergio Aguero
sprinted clear to seal the points 12 minutes from time.
The holders were knocked out of this season's Europa League
at the group stage in December.
Espanyol's steady slide out of contention for the European
places continued on Sunday with a 0-0 draw at Hercules that saw
them slip to eighth on 44 points. They host Atletico next
Sporting Gijon built on their shock win over Real Madrid at
the Bernabeu last weekend by beating Osasuna 1-0.
David Barral pounced on an error to score in the second half
as Sporting rose to 11th with 38 points.
Hercules remain in the relegation places in 18th with 30
points, ahead of Malaga on goal difference, after Manuel
Pellegrini's side drew 0-0 at home to 10-man Deportivo La Coruna.
Almeria are bottom with 26 points.
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