Atletico Madrid refused to flinch in the Spanish title race as Raul Garcia’s first-half header earned a 1-0 victory at Valencia that kept them in the driving seat with three games to go.
Garcia struck just before halftime on Sunday to give Atletico the victory that took them to a club record 88 points, six above second placed Real Madrid who beat Osasuna on Saturday and still have a game in hand of their city rivals.
Barcelona, in mourning following the death of former coach Tito Vilanova last Friday, are away to Villarreal later and can move up to 84 points with a win.
Atletico were not at their best and lacked their usual high intensity, possibly a result of tiredness after a grueling campaign and this week’s tense 0-0 draw in the Champions League semi-final, first leg against Chelsea.
However, they inched towards the title despite having Juanfran red-carded in stoppage time following a wild challenge on Pablo Piatti.
The challenges are coming thick and fast with this week’s Champion’s League return at Chelsea looming large.
Coach Diego Simeone chose not to rest any players ahead of their showdown with Chelsea but many looked a little jaded as Valencia took hold of midfield.
Valencia could have gone ahead in the opening minute when Daniel Parejo shot wide from the edge of the area.
Atletico came into the game and although Diego Costa saw little of the ball in attack David Villa, alongside him, curled a dangerous effort just wide of the post.
The visitors went ahead after 43 minutes with Garcia’s flicked header after keeper Vicente Guaita came off his line.
Costa wasted two good chances in the second half but at the other end Atletico were also lucky not to concede.
Jonas and Sofiane Feghouli both went close and in a tense finish Juanfran was dismissed for a rash challenge.
Cr7 warms up
Real Madrid’s rampant Cristiano Ronaldo scored at the start of each half to set up a 4-0 victory over lowly Osasuna and put the pressure back on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Sergio Ramos and Daniel Carvajal also netted for Real who are second on 82 points. Real did not risk Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema against Osasuna ahead of their Champions league semi-final.