MADRID (Reuters): Levante climbed above Malaga into fourth place in La Liga and a Champions League qualification slot after Valdo and Arouna Kone struck early in a 2-0 victory at home to Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
The Valencia-based club, this season’s surprise package despite a meagre budget and ageing squad, have 48 points from 31 matches, level with their more glamourous city rivals Valencia, who play at leaders Real Madrid in the late kickoff.
Malaga have 47 ahead of their match at home to relegation-threatened Racing Santander on Monday.
Atletico have enjoyed a revival since coach Diego Simeone took over at the turn of the year and are through to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
However, their domestic form has been erratic and they are six points behind Levante in seventh and in danger of missing their goal of a lucrative Champions League spot next season.
They had defender Miranda sent off late on when he earned a second yellow card and the Brazilian will be suspended for Atletico’s match at home to cross-town rivals Real on Wednesday.
Champions Barcelona, chasing a fourth straight title, trimmed the gap to Real to three points when they came from a goal down in a 4-1 win at struggling Real Zaragoza on Saturday.
Lionel Messi struck twice as the Argentine World Player of the Year became the first man to score 60 goals in a season in European top-flight soccer in almost 40 years.
The last to reach the milestone was former Bayern Munich striker Gerd Mueller who netted 67 in the 1972-73 season.
Jose Mourinho’s Real, who had a 10-point lead over Barca a few weeks ago before slipping to consecutive draws against Malaga and Villarreal, have 78 points from 30 of 38 games, with Barca on 75 from 31.
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- Falcao grabs hat-trick as Atletico move closer to Europe