Midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion set up two goals to help Atletico Madrid ease to a 2-0 win over crosstown rival Getafe and keep in touch with the top three teams in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Atletico overwhelmed the visitors from the start at its Vicente Calderon Stadium with the defending champion’s preferred weapon of scoring through set-pieces, with Fernando Torres sending in a long headed goal from Koke’s free kick three minutes after kickoff.
Torres’ first league goal since rejoining his boyhood club in the winter transfer market along with three goals in the Copa del Rey came four days after he netted a decisive spot kick. Atletico beat Bayer Leverkusen in a penalty shootout on Tuesday to advance to a Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid.
“Torres is improving, understanding his teammates better,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “He lives to score and needed to score in the league. He creates healthy competition with (striker Mario) Mandzukic, who is a decisive player for us. We needed more from Torres and he is giving it to us.”
Simeone’s side pressed for a second goal, coming close in the ninth when Koke’s low strike hit the post and almost went in after the rebound hit goalkeeper Vicente Guaita’s boot and squirmed by the upright.
The decisive goal fell four minutes before halftime when Raul Jimenez flicked on Koke’s corner for Tiago Cardoso to head home at the far post.
“In the first 25 minutes my team played very well, passing well, creating a lot of scoring chances, showing intensity. Eventually we did our damage through set-pieces,” Simeone said.
Atletico ended a run of three consecutive draws in the league to remain one point behind third-place Valencia.
League leader Barcelona is six points ahead of Atletico before hosting second-place Real Madrid on Sunday, with only one point separating the fierce rivals.
Asked if he would watch the clasico, Simeone said he was “more interested” in the match between fifth-place Sevilla and sixth-place Villarreal, also on Sunday.
Getafe, which remained in 13th place, lost substitute forward Karim Yoda to a leg injury with seven minutes to play.
Rayo Vallecano won its fourth straight home match by edging 10-man Malaga 1-0 to move into ninth place, two spots behind the visitors.
Rayo forward Gael Kakuta headed in Alberto Bueno’s pass for the 21-minute winner. Malaga’s comeback effort was undermined by losing defender Marcos Angeleri to two yellow card offences in the 74th.
Athletic Bilbao also used a dominant first half to beat Almeria 2-1 and stay in eighth with its fifth victory in a row.
Defender Xabier Etxeita headed in Bilbao’s first goal in the ninth, and Mikel Rico controlled Julian Cuesta’s clearance with his chest before floating a delicate shot over the goalie in the 26th.
Almeria halved the difference two minutes after the restart when Welington Silva’s shot hit Bilbao left back Mikel Balenziaga and went in. Almeria played injury time with 10 after Fran Velez received his second yellow card.
Celta Vigo rose to right behind Rayo after substitute striker Charles slid to finish off a nifty passing combination from Pablo Hernandez and Manuel “Nolito” Agudo with four minutes left to deal Levante a 1-0 loss at home that kept it in the relegation zone.
Granada likewise remained in danger of the drop after a 0-0 draw at home with 14-place Eibar, which ended an eight-game losing streak.
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