Valencia and Villarreal kept the heat up on their rival European hopefuls in the Spanish La Liga with home victories on Saturday. With four of the top six teams not in action until Sunday, east-coast rivals Valencia and Villarreal took advantage by beating Almeria 3-2 and Athletic Club 2-0 respectively.
Valencia did not have it easy in their match, though, as they faced stubborn resistance from lowly Almeria before Spain striker Alvaro Negredo netted a late winner at the Mestalla. Valencia had seen first-half goals by Dani Parejo and Rodrigo Moreno cancelled out by two strikes from Almeria’s top scorer Tomer Hemed and looked to be heading for a third successive game without a win.
However, Negredo – who was a big hit during a two-year spell at Almeria earlier in his career – sent a header crashing into the net with seven minutes left to earn Valencia the win that lifts them into third ahead of champions Atletico Madrid.
Three points further back are Villarreal, who got their bid for a top-four finish back on track with a comfortable win at home to Athletic Bilbao. An expertly-taken first-half goal from Denis Cheryshev put the hosts on course for a first La Liga triumph of the year and Bruno Soriano’s late penalty put the result beyond doubt.
Also on Saturday, former Manchester United striker Manucho struck late for Rayo Vallecano to inflict a first home defeat on Real Sociedad manager David Moyes – an ex-Red Devil himself. Paco Jemez’s side had been the second-best team for large periods of the game but the Angola international headed in a corner in the 81st minute to give the Madrid side a 1-0 win and their second triumph in three matches.
In the late match, Espanyol beat Celta Vigo 1-0 thanks to a 90th-minute strike from substitute Felipe Caicedo. The Ecuador international also scored twice in the last 11 minutes as Espanyol knocked Valencia out of the Copa del Rey in midweek.