Atletico, Sevilla win to stay near top in Spain

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JOSEPH WIL­SON

Atletico Madrid and Sevilla eased to com­fort­able wins to stay in the hunt for a top-four fin­ish in the Span­ish league on Satur­day.

Atletico won 2-0 at Cor­doba af­ter An­toine Griez­mann and Saul Niguez scored in the first half to give the league’s bot­tom side its 10th straight de­feat. The de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons rose into pro­vi­sional third place, two points ahead of Va­len­cia.

“My team went into the match with a clear idea about what it needed to do and it was able to re­solve the match in 20 min­utes,” Atletico coach Diego Sime­one said.

Fifth-place Sevilla like­wise got first-half goals from Aleix Vi­dal and Car­los Bacca to brush aside vis­i­tor Ath­letic Bil­bao 2-0, and pull within two points of Va­len­cia in the fight for one of the four Cham­pi­ons League berths.

Bil­bao re­mained eighth af­ter its first loss in six rounds saw mid­fielder Iker Mu­ni­ain car­ried off when he in­jured his left leg shortly be­fore half­time. The club said Mu­ni­ain had a knee “sprain,” and would un­dergo more tests.

Else­where, Le­vante striker David Bar­ral scored a hat trick to fuel its 4-1 rout at 10-man Alme­ria, leav­ing the strug­gling hosts in the rel­e­ga­tion zone.

Real So­ciedad sub­sti­tute Ruben Pardo also struck from long range in the 83rd minute to cancel out Jose “Re­cio” Garcia’s goal and earn a 1-1 draw at Malaga as both sides stayed in the mid­dle of the ta­ble.

Griez­mann put Atletico in charge in the fifth when the for­ward won pos­ses­sion from Bruno Zu­culini in­side Cor­doba’s half. He quickly wrong-footed the last de­fender be­fore blast­ing in a low, left-footed strike from out­side the area for his 15th league goal of the cam­paign.

Niguez ce­mented Atletico’s dom­i­nance in the 39th by scor­ing from a well-ex­e­cuted set-piece move. The mid­fielder glided into the area to nod home a throw-in by Je­sus Gamez, flicked on by Jose Gimenez.

“The best part of the match was that my team un­der­stood it had to start strong be­cause it knew they could be im­pre­cise with the ball,” Sime­one said. “We (then) found a way to score with a set-piece, and that made it eas­ier to man­age the match.”

Cor­doba briefly flirted with a goal in the sec­ond half as Bebe hit the cross­bar eight min­utes be­fore Jose Cre­spo forced Atletico goal­keeper Jan Oblak to make an ath­letic save in the 85th.

Atletico’s victory kept alive its slim hopes of de­fend­ing its ti­tle, as it pulled within six points of leader Barcelona be­fore the pace­set­ter vis­ited Celta Vigo on Sun­day.

Sevilla caused Bil­bao trou­ble from the start by plac­ing long balls be­hind its de­fen­sive line as it romped to an early ad­van­tage at Sanchez Pizjuan Sta­dium.

“We were able to im­pose our style of play,” Sevilla coach Unai Emery said. “We needed to play long to counter their pres­sure high up the pitch. That’s how we did our dam­age.”

Vi­dal headed a long pass over on­rush­ing goal­keeper Gorka Iraizoz be­fore slot­ting the ball into the open net for the third-minute lead.

Bacca then fin­ished off a quick buildup from the right flank in the 21st for his 17th goal of the sea­son, ty­ing him with Barcelona’s Ney­mar as the league’s third- high­est scor­ers.

In Alme­ria, Bar­ral scored twice from two passes by An­dreas Ivan­schitz and Vic­tor Casadesus added an­other goal be­fore Alme­ria lost Se­bas­tian Dubar­bier to his sec­ond book­ing in the 58th.

Tomer Hemed pulled one back for Alme­ria from the penalty spot be­fore Casadesus set up Bar­ral’s third goal to cap Le­vante’s big win as it moved three points from the drop.

Also on Sun­day, sec­ond-place Real Madrid hosts Granada, Va­len­cia wel­comes Vil­lar­real, and De­portivo La Coruna is at Getafe.

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