Atletico Madrid gained on LaLiga leaders Barcelona as Angel Correa’s screamer secured a 1-0 win over third-placed Valencia.
Earlier on Sunday, Barca narrowly avoided suffering their first league loss of the season by rescuing a late 1-1 draw at Espanyol, and Atletico capitalised on a rare slip to reduce the gap to nine points.
Diego Simeone’s side coped manfully with losing starting centre-halves Stefan Savic and Diego Godin to injury and Correa’s 25-yard rocket sent the Wanda Metropolitano into raptures shortly before the hour.
His rasping drive flew into the top corner beyond Neto, who was perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty for earlier clattering into Godin in the incident that saw the defender leave the field.
Correa’s strike was a standout moment of quality in an otherwise largely turgid affair in which Valencia offered next to nothing by way of an attacking threat, Marcelino’s side failing to muster a single shot on target.
Victory moves Atletico nine points clear of their opponents, who now turn their attentions to overcoming a 1-0 deficit when they host Barca in Thursday’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg.
Valencia came into the meeting on the back of successive defeats and they were on the back foot for much of the opening exchanges here, although Atletico’s only effort of note saw Neto parry Saul Niguez’s 35-yard drive around the post.
Diego Costa had missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but he introduced himself to Jose Gaya by wrestling his opponent to the floor at an Atleti set-piece just past the half-hour.
The striker continued his personal duel with Gaya, getting above his man to meet Koke’s corner and power a header goalwards which was clawed away from the top corner by Neto.
Valencia’s goalkeeper was in the action again early in the second period as he came to collect Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick but succeeded only in punching Godin in the face, though referee Ignacio Iglesias was uninterested in home complaints.
Atletico had already lost Savic to a thigh complaint in the first half and Godin was also unable to continue as he departed down the tunnel and was replaced by Juanfran.
The hosts soon shrugged off that setback, however, and forged ahead in the 59th minute as Correa picked up a pass from Koke, spun away into space and unleashed an unstoppable effort that zipped beyond Neto into the top-right corner.
Correa tried his luck again 15 minutes later from just outside the area, but this time his effort lacked the required venom and Neto got down to his left to make the save.
If Atletico expected a late glut of pressure from the visitors, it never arrived as Simeone’s men were able to comfortably see out the victory and give their slim title hopes a welcome boost.
Key Opta stats:
– Valencia have not managed a shot on target against Atletico Madrid in their two meetings in LaLiga this season.
– Atletico have kept clean sheets in their last four games against Valencia, their best run against them.
– All of Angel Correa’s goals in LaLiga this season have been the opening goals, winning eight points for Atletico.
– Valencia have lost three consecutive games in LaLiga for the first time under Marcelino.