Antoine Griezmann pulled the strings for Atletico Madrid as they shredded Ruben Baraja’s helpless Valencia 3-0 in La Liga on Saturday.
The French forward opened the scoring for the hosts at the Metropolitano and continued his own superb form with another fine display at the heart of Diego Simeone’s side.
Yannick Carrasco doubled Atletico’s lead early in the second half and Thomas Lemar sealed the win, with the Rojiblancos, third, moving six points clear of fourth-placed Real Sociedad, having played a game more.
The defeat leaves the troubled Los Che 17th, level on 26 points with Getafe, 18th, who host Sevilla on Sunday.
Atletico recorded a fifth win in six La Liga games and tightened their hold on third place with a confident display, the kind they could not find in the first half of the campaign.
“Before the World Cup nothing was going for us, and now everything is,” Atletico midfielder Marcos Llorente told DAZN.
“The team is happy, and looking forward to keep on winning games, and the objective is to finish as high as we can.
“We know all we have left is La Liga so we will try to climb ranks. Above us we have big teams, why not try and catch them up?”
Memphis Depay missed two good chances for Atletico early on before Griezmann broke the deadlock after 23 minutes.
Llorente burst forward and fed the striker, and while there was a stroke of luck about his first touch, which appeared to bounce off his foot and set the ball up nicely, the second was a neat finish for his ninth league goal of the season.
Valencia thought they had responded through Hugo Duro but his strike was ruled out by VAR for a foul at the other end of the pitch by Dimitri Foulquier.
The first half was intense and fairly even, but Atletico strolled to victory in the second after Carrasco tucked home from close range soon after the break.
Griezmann threaded a fine pass through for Alvaro Morata, who left Valencia defender Eray Comert in the dust and crossed for Lemar to head home.
“The team is doing very well, when the group is good and the team competes in the way it’s competing, it’s a difficult one (to face),” Simeone told DAZN.
“We could have been better in our finishing, we were generating chances, but didn’t have the decisiveness to kill off the game. In the second half the goals came.
“We’re happy with how the team is growing.”
Samuel Lino hit the post for Valencia late on but they could not even manage a consolation strike on another deeply worrying away day for Baraja’s side.
“We’re really down, we didn’t have a good game,” Valencia captain Jose Gaya told DAZN.
“The disallowed goal affected us. (The ref) didn’t think it was a foul and with VAR, he changed the decision.”
The defeat was Baraja’s third in five games since taking over the side he used to play for in February.
“We are very disappointed. Since I’ve been here this is the game where we’ve been the least recognisable (as Valencia),” Baraja said.
Rayo Vallecano were held to a 2-2 draw by Girona after missing a penalty which Oscar Trejo attempted to pass to Isi Palazon.
Trejo saw a first spot-kick saved by Paulo Gazzaniga, but was allowed to take it again for encroachment by Girona.
On his second attempt he laid the ball off to the onrushing Palazon, who fired over.
In 2016 Barcelona successfully executed the move in La Liga, with Lionel Messi passing a penalty to Luis Suarez, who scored against Celta Vigo.
Trejo and Palazon’s miss brought back memories of Arsenal attempting the same move against Manchester City in the Premier League in 2005, when Robert Pires attempted to pass to Thierry Henry but bungled the move.
The draw leaves Rayo provisionally eighth while Girona sit 12th.
Celta Vigo won 3-1 at Espanyol with talented midfielder Gabri Veiga scoring a fine goal to continue his good form.