Atletico Madrid moved even closer to their first Spanish league title in 18 years with a 1-0 victory at Valencia.
Except for Pablo Alcacer’s shot by the post before the first minute was up, the strategy worked and Atletico pushed forward in search of an opening goal that came just before halftime.
Raul Garcia used an exquisite no-look flick of the head to lift Gabi Fernandez’s lobbed pass over goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and bouncing in off the post.
Atletico defender Juanfran Torres was shown a direct red card for tackling Pablo Piatti from behind in stoppage time.
Diego Simeone’s side moved six points clear of Real Madrid, who have a game advantage.
With a better head-to-head record against Madrid, Atletico can now clinch the domestic crown by winning two of their remaining three games at Levante, home vs. Malaga, and at Barcelona.
Simeone’s men can now focus on the Champions League semi-finals when they travel to Chelsea with their tie in the balance after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
Barca win thriller
Barcelona went 2-0 down but managed to rally with some help from Villarreal to keep alive their defense of the league title that Vilanova led them to last season.
Ruben Gracia and Manuel Trigueros scored from counterattacks for Villarreal to go 2-0 up by the 55th minute.
But the men in yellow then self-destructed with own goals by Gabriel Armando in the 65th minute and Mateo Musacchio in the 78th minute, both redirecting passes by Dani Alves into their team’s net.
Lionel Messi then finally beat goalie Sergio Asenjo after Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas combined to set the forward up to net his 27th league goal of the campaign.
Barcelona now trail Atletico by four points.
Elsewhere, Almeria fought back for a 2-1 win at nine-man Espanyol to keep alive their hopes of staying in the first division as they moved to within two points of safety.
All of this weekend’s matches observed a minute of silence before kickoff for Barcelona’s former coach, Tito Vilanova, who died on Friday after a battle with cancer.