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Rodrigo keeps Valencia rolling, Atletico held


Madrid (AFP) – Valencia maintained their stunning revival under Marcelino Garcia Toral to move to within a point of La Liga leaders Barcelona with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Alaves on Saturday sealed thanks to a Rodrigo penalty.

Barcelona can regain their four-point lead at the top when they travel to Athletic Bilbao later on Saturday.

Real Madrid, who now trail Valencia by four points, are in action on Sunday amidst a backdrop of political turmoil as they travel to Catalonia to take on Girona.

Simeone Zaza moved just two goals behind Lionel Messi as La Liga’s top scorer with nine when he blasted Valencia into the lead in the Basque Country 10 minutes before half-time from Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira’s cut-back.

“It has completely changed, not just our level of play but also our mentality,” Zaza said of Valencia’s upturn in form since Marcelino took charge in June.

“The coach has helped a lot in that. Now we are competitive and can compete against anyone.

“We are second and we have to enjoy it. We don’t know how far we can go, but we have a lot of ambition.”

Alaves remain in the relegation zone with just three points from 10 matches, but they did manage just their fourth goal of the season in a spirited second-half showing.

Alexis rose highest to head home Munir El Haddadi’s corner just four minutes after the break and only a brilliant save from Neto prevented El Haddadi from putting the visitors in front moments later.

However, Alaves undid all their good work early in the second period with a moment of madness from defender Rodrigo Ely as he handled a cross inside his own box on 66 minutes.

In the absence of suspended captain Dani Parejo, Rodrigo took responsibility to roll the ball down the centre of the goal and move Valencia up to 24 points, already more than half they achieved all last season in finishing 12th.

“We weren’t expecting to pick up that many points, to still be unbeaten, after 10 matches,” said Marcelino.

– Atletico lose ground –

Atletico Madrid remain fourth, level on 20 points with Real Madrid, but their stumbling season continued as they were held 1-1 at home by Villarreal for their fifth draw in 10 Liga games.

Diego Simeone’s men’s problem has largely been finding the net but they went in front just after the hour mark in spectacular fashion as Angel Correa cushioned Antoine Griezmann’s volleyed pass into his path before slotting home at the near post.

However, in another recurring theme of Atletico’s season, they sat far too deep in trying to defend their lead and were punished nine minutes from time when Carlos Bacca flicked home a header from a corner.

“If the team continues with that aggression and intensity, better times will come,” insisted a defiant Simeone, whose side face a must-win Champions League clash against Qarabag of Azerbaijan on Tuesday.

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