Atletico Madrid warmed up for their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in midweek by picking up their sixth straight win in La Liga on Saturday beating Valencia 1-0.
In doing so they extended their lead over Real Madrid by six points after they were beaten 2-1 at home by Alaves.
Atletico’s victory at Mestalla moved them level on points with leaders Real Sociedad who have played a game more and play on Sunday against Villarreal.
Diego Simeone’s team were missing Luis Suarez, still waiting to return from a positive test for the coronavirus, and Diego Costa, who has been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis.
They also had Joao Felix resting on the bench but with Thomas Lemar in inspired form they peppered Jaume Domenech’s goal.
The Valencia keeper made several fine saves from the Frenchman and blocked an effort from Angel Correa to frustrate Atletico.
But the home side were ultimately beaten by an own goal on 79 minutes.
Substitute Yannick Carrasco got to the byline and crossed from the left where Valencia full-back Toni Lato, running onto the ball, turned it into his own net.
“Luck plays a part,” said Carrasco of the breakthrough. “We are just happy to have come here and won.”
“The game against Bayern Munich will be another difficult one but we have a big squad and we are ready for Tuesday.”
Domenech added: “We are really disappointed because we put so much into the game and I think we deserved a point from it.”
A delighted Diego Simeone praised Lemar after the game. “He can play really well believe me,” he said of a player who has under-performed since signing for the club in 2019.
“We don’t have players with his ability to carry the ball and shoot like him.
“Hopefully we can give him the confidence he needs because he can help us a lot.”
Atletico Madrid’s joy was complete when Real Madrid lost the last game of the night.
Alaves took the lead after just five minutes when Lucas Perez scored from the penalty spot after Nacho had handled.
Joselu made it 2-0 in the second half after an error from Thibaut Courtois saw the Belgium keeper play the ball straight to the forward.
Casemiro scored four minutes from time from close range after Vinicius had a shot saved by Fernando Pacheco, but Alaves held on for the win.
“It is what it is,” said Casemiro when asked about Madrid’s fixture pile-up. This was the first of nine games they have to play in 33 days.
They also lost Eden Hazard to a thigh injury midway through the first half.
“We just have to keep working hard,” he added. “This is a very unusual league and we have to adapt as soon as we possibly can. There is still plenty of time to do that.
Elsewhere Saturday Sevilla left it late to beat Huesca with Youssef En-Nesyri scoring the winner seven minutes from time from Lucas Ocampos’ assist.
Sevilla climb to fifth while Huesca remain in the bottom three still without a win. Ten-man Elche drew 1-1 with Cadiz in the early game.