Atletico Madrid joined Barcelona at the top of La Liga as a double from Diego Costa guided them to a 3-0 win over Valencia on Sunday.
After a disappointing first half, Costa opened the scoring in style with a stunning individual effort 14 minutes after the restart.
Just four minutes later, substitute Raul Garcia rattled home a loose ball inside the area to seal the three-point win.
Costa then saw a penalty saved by Diego Alves, but made no mistake when handed a second opportunity from the spot six minutes later – to move level with Cristiano Ronaldo as La Liga’s top scorer with 17 goals so far this season.
Both Atletico and Barca, on 43 points from 16 games, now have a five-point lead over Real Madrid after Los Blancos could only manage a 2-2 draw at Osasuna on Saturday.
“The first goal was key, because that opened up the game and I was very happy with the second-half,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
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the heat from Athletic [Reuters]
However, Simeone continued to play down his side’s chances of fighting for the title.
“The numbers that Barcelona have put together over the past few years are extraordinary. They are an incredible team and even without [Lionel] Messi they continue to win games with ease. They are a very difficult team just to keep up with,” he told reporters.
“We need to stay focused on what is realistic for us, as that is what has got us to this point.”
Simeone made seven changes from the side that started in their midweek 2-0 Champions League win over Porto, as he resorted to his strongest available line-up.
However, the hosts never really got going until the second-half and went in front just before the hour mark as Costa ran half the length of the field before finishing low past Alves.
Garcia then came on to replace David Villa – and, with virtually his first involvement in the game, he made it 2-0 with an accurate drive into the far corner from inside the area.
Costa’s direct running was causing the Valencia defence all sorts of problems and he had the chance to make it three when he was pulled down by Victor Ruiz inside the area 15 minutes from time.
But Alves dived to his right to turn away the resulting penalty – the third time Costa has missed from the spot this season.
Costa wasn’t to be denied a second time, though, as after he had been felled by Antonio Barragan, he blasted high past the helpless Alves.
Earlier, Athletic Bilbao strengthened their position in fourth place with a 1-1 draw away to Sevilla.
Alberto Moreno fired the hosts in front after four minutes – only for Markel Susaeta to level just two minutes later.
Susaeta also saw a first-half penalty saved by Beto, but in the end Athletic were happy to settle for the point which moves them two clear of fifth-placed Villarreal.
Real Sociedad moved to within four points of their Basque neighbours, Athletic, as they hammered bottom of the table Real Betis 5-1 at Anoeta.
Imanol Agirretxe scored twice, whilst Antoine Griezmann, Ion Ansotegi and Xabi Prieto were also on target as Sociedad recorded their third straight league win.
Capping off the La Liga action on Sunday night, Almeria moved out of the relegation zone with a 0-0 draw at home to Espanyol.