MADRID // Villarreal and Valencia gave chase to leaders Barcelona with victories in the Primera Liga on Sunday. Villarreal climbed to second place on 28 points, four short of Barca, with a 2-1 win at bottom club Recreativo Huelva, and Valencia slotted in behind them on 27 with a 3-2 home win over Real Betis. Barcelona were 3-0 victors at Sevilla on Saturday, when champions Real Madrid fell 3-1 at local rivals Getafe. The defeat sees Bernd Schuster's ailing side slip to fourth.
Manuel Pellegrini's injury-weakened Villarreal took the lead with a deflected shot from Santi Cazorla after 27 minutes, and Ariel Ibagaza curled in a free-kick to double their advantage just before the break. Adrian Colunga pulled one back for bottom club Recre from the penalty spot towards the end of the match. Valencia had lost their previous two games at the Mestalla, but were quick out of the blocks against in-form Betis.
David Villa scored his 12th goal of the campaign with a back post volley from Edu's deep cross after 10 minutes, and his strike partner Juan Mata doubled the lead soon after with a great individual effort. Betis turned the game round after the interval when Juanma beat Renan at his near post in the 56th minute and eight minutes later Sergio Garcia was bundled over for a penalty. The home side had defender Carlos Marchena sent off and Achille Emana netted from the spot, only for ten-man Valencia to score again, when Ruben Baraja headed in from a free-kick.
Sevilla are fifth with 24 points, three ahead of Atletico Madrid and Deportivo Coruna, respectively. The Uruguay striker Diego Forlan scored two late goals having earlier set up Simao Sabrosa and Sergio Aguero for two more, as Atletico came from behind to beat Racing Santander 4-1 at the Calderón. The result was harsh on Racing, who played almost an hour with ten men. Joan Verdu gave Depor a 1-0 away win over ten-man Almeria.
Almeria and Espanyol, who lost 1-0 at home to Sporting Gijón, were both jeered off by their own fans. It proved to be the final straw for the Espanyol board who sacked coach Bartolome Marquez today following their slump to 17th in the table, while the pressure remains on Almeria coach Gonzalo Arconada to turn around results fast. *Reuters