|A Van Nistelrooy strike helped Malaga on their way to a big three points in La Liga [AFP]
Malaga boosted their chances of securing a lucrative place in next season's Champions League when they came from a goal down to win 2-1 at Espanyol and draw level on points with third-placed Valencia on Sunday.
The Qatar-owned club fell behind in the 24th minute to a Philippe Coutinho strike before former Manchester United and
Real Madrid forward Ruud van Nistelrooy netted a 75th-minute equaliser moments after coming off the bench.
Malaga snatched the winner two minutes later when Espanyol goalkeeper Francisco Casilla saved Salomon Rondon's header only for Martin Demichelis to smash the loose ball into the net.
"We are on a good run of form and losing a few matches earlier in the season has helped inspire us to go for victory in every game"
Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini
"We are on a good run of form and losing a few matches earlier in the season has helped inspire us to go for victory in every game," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini told a news conference after his side's fifth win in six outings.
"Every point is very valuable because the standings are very congested," the Chilean said.
The victory lifted the Andalusians, one of Europe's biggest spenders in recent seasons, into Spain's fourth Champions League qualification place above Levante, who were beaten 2-0 at home to Osasuna who are also in the running.
With nine games remaining, Valencia - who lost 3-1 at Getafe on Saturday - hold on to third on 47 points thanks to a
superior goal difference over Malaga, while Levante stay three points behind and drop to fifth.
Leaders Real Madrid preserved their six-point advantage over second-placed Barcelona with a 5-1 drubbing of Real Sociedad on Saturday after Barca had shrugged off the dismissal of Thiago Alcantara early in the second half to win 2-0 at Real Mallorca.
Real have 75 points and Barca, chasing a fourth straight La Liga title, have 69, 22 ahead of Valencia and Malaga.
Osasuna are a point behind Levante in sixth, three ahead of seventh-placed Espanyol, and Atletico Madrid are eighth, level on 39 points with Getafe, after they conceded a penalty in added time and lost 1-0 at a resurgent Real Zaragoza.
Zaragoza, whose season has been overshadowed by financial problems and institutional strife, climbed off the bottom,
moving level with Sporting Gijon and a point above Racing Santander, who play at Real Betis later on Sunday.
"The only thing we can do is remain humble and maybe we have a chance of saving ourselves from relegation," Zaragoza coach Manolo Jimenez told a news conference.
"At the end of the game with the heat and the very dry pitch it was a toss-up whether we won or lost and it was clear that whoever scored would take the three points," he said.
Athletic Bilbao are 10th on 38 points after they conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at home to Gijon.
Marcelo Bielsa's side are without a win in three matches since they knocked Premier League side Manchester United out of the Europa League on March 15.