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LaLiga: Atletico Madrid come from behind to beat Valencia 3-1; Barcelona down Elche 2-0 without suspended Lionel Messi

The Associated Press
·4-min read

Madrid: Atletico Madrid haven't flinched in their quest to win the Spanish league title for the first time since 2014.

Coming from behind for a second straight time, Atletico defeated Valencia 3-1 on Sunday to strengthen their hold on the league lead entering the second half of the season.

Barcelona earlier picked up their second win in a row without the suspended Lionel Messi, defeating Elche 2-0 to regain third place.

Joao Felix, Luis Suarez and Angel Correa scored to give Atletico their seventh straight league win and a seven-point gap to second-place Real Madrid with a game in hand. Diego Simeone's team is 10 points ahead of Barcelona.

Atletico had also needed to rally to win their previous league match, against Eibar.

"We started behind again but this team always fights until the end and thankfully we ended with the victory," Felix said. "We can't get too caught up with the lead that we have now. We have to stay focused match after match."

Valencia opened the scoring with a beautiful curling long-range shot by Uros Racic in the 11th minute, but Felix equalised off a corner kick in the 23rd and Suarez put the hosts ahead with a well-placed low shot into the far corner in the 54th from a Felix pass. Correa sealed the victory by completing a cross from Marcos Llorente in the 72nd.

Suarez, who netted a late winner against Eibar last weekend, is now one of the league's leading scorers with 12 goals, along with Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri.

Valencia, who were unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, stayed in 14th place. They have the same 20 points as Alaves, the first team inside the relegation zone after 20 matches.

Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby had to be replaced early in the second half because of an apparent muscle injury.

Barcelona on a roll

Frenkie de Jong scored in the 39th and set up Riqui Puig's 89th-minute goal to give Barcelona their fourth league win in a row as Messi served the second of his two-game suspension for hitting an opponent.

The Catalan club moved a point in front of Sevilla, which on Saturday beat Cadiz 3-0.

It was the first time Barcelona won four consecutive league matches this season, with all four victories coming in away matches. The club hasn't lost in nine straight league games.

"We've improved since the year started," De Jong said. "We've only played away games in the league and won all of them. We are doing better."

De Jong scored into the open net after the Elche defense failed to fully clear a cross from Martin Braithwaite to Antoine Griezmann inside the area. The Dutch midfielder made a well-placed cross for Puig's late header for his first-ever Spanish league goal.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made a crucial foot-save to keep Barcelona ahead in the 56th after Elche forward Emiliano Rigoni entered the area in a one-on-one situation. The breakaway for the hosts was prompted after a blunder by Barcelona defender Oscar Mingueza, who gave the ball away near midfield.

"It's one of those plays that can make the difference in the match," Elche defender Gonzalo Verdu said. "The goalkeeper made a tremendous save. A goal there could have changed the match."

Barcelona were coming off a 2-0 win over third-division club Cornella in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey on Thursday, when Messi served the first match of his suspension for hitting an opponent in the team's 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup final on 17 January.

Elche, winless in their last 13 league games, are second-to-last in the 20-team standings.


Celta Vigo held

Celta Vigo were held 1-1 against Eibar to extend their winless streak to five matches in all competitions. They had lost four straight, including against third-division club Ibiza in the second round of the Copa del Rey. The club's last league win was in December.

Celta sits in ninth-place, while Eibar stayed 15th, not far from the relegation zone.

Osasuna wins

Osasuna snapped their own 13-game winless streak with a 3-1 victory over Granada.

Ante Budimir scored a pair of first-half goals for the hosts, who hadn't won in the league since October.

The win moved Osasuna out of the relegation zone, while Granada stayed in seventh place.

Also See: LaLiga: Atletico Madrid sign Lyon forward Moussa Dembele on loan with option to buy

LaLiga: Atletico Madrid extend lead at top with win over Sevilla; Granada beat Osasuna

LaLiga: Luis Suarez scores a brace as Atletico Madrid come from behind to beat Eibar

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