Atletico Madrid turned up the heat on Valencia in the battle for La Liga’s third automatic Champions League berth when club top scorer Antoine Griezmann set them on the way to a 2-0 stroll at bottom side Cordoba on Saturday.
The victory for the champions at Cordoba’s El Arcangel stadium in balmy Andalucia lifted Atletico above Valencia and onto 62 points from 29 matches. Valencia have 60 points in fourth and can reclaim third spot with a win at home to sixth-placed Villarreal on Sunday.
France forward Griezmann struck his 15th league goal of the campaign in the fifth minute after stealing the ball, surging forward from midfield and cracking a precise low shot into the bottom corner.
Midfielder Saul Niguez, returning from injury, nodded a second in the 39th before Cordoba had a couple of decent efforts in the second half but could not avoid slipping to a 10th successive reverse.
One more loss at Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday and they will equal the worst run in Spain’s top flight of 11 defeats suffered by Las Palmas in 1960.
“It was not an easy game at all and the rhythm was slow because of the heat,” Saul said in an interview with Spanish television.
“But it was a good win for us which we needed,” added the 20-year-old, who has not played since sustaining a painful blow to the kidneys in the Champions League game at Bayer Leverkusen at the end of February.
“The team is in good shape, you can see in training that we have the same excitement and desire to win as always and that is the most important thing.”
Atletico also stayed hard on the heels of second-placed Real Madrid, who have 64 points, four behind leaders Barcelona.
Real, who have lost three of their last four games in all competitions, host Granada and Barca play at Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Europa League champions Sevilla, the only side unbeaten at home in La Liga this season, have 58 points in fifth after they beat visiting King’s Cup finalists Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan.