Atletico bounce back from derby loss; Barça continue to struggle

Sports Desk, Dec 19 (efe-epa).- Atletico Madrid moved on from their derby defeat to thump Elche 3-1 on Saturday and go 3 points clear atop LaLiga as second-place Real Sociedad lost to Levante and Barcelona could manage no more than a draw at Camp Nou against Valencia.

Fourth-place Villarreal won for the first time in their last five outings to move within a point of Sociedad and Real Madrid, but Sevilla dropped points at home, missing a chance to leapfrog Barça into the fifth spot.

Diego Simeone needed to see a reaction from his squad after the dismal performance last week against Real Madrid and the Colchoneros did not disappoint their manager.

Elche came into the contest at the Wanda Metropolitano on a six-match winless run and found themselves trailing 2-0 at the hour mark on a pair of goals by Luis Suarez.

Lucas Boye cut the deficit in half with a goal in the 64th minute, but Diego Costa converted a penalty with 10 minutes left to seal the victory for Atleti, who are on 29 points with three games in hand over Sociedad and two over Real Madrid.

Real Sociedad traveled to Valencia for a clash with 14th-place Levante and forged ahead in the 22nd minute on a goal by Alexander Isak.

The lead was fleeting, however, as Roger Marti scored for Levante six minutes later, and Sociedad saw their hope of taking a point evaporate when they conceded to Jorge de Frutos in the 87th minute.

With the victory, Levante vaulted from the drop zone to 14th place.

Barcelona welcomed Valencia to Camp Nou with a chance to post a third consecutive win in LaLiga for the first time in their inaugural campaign under new coach Ronald Koeman.

Yet Valencia made the better start, going up 1-0 in the 29th minute courtesy of Mouctar Diakhaby.

Lionel Messi evened the score in first-half stoppage time and Ronald Araujo gave the Blaugrana the lead in the 52nd minute with his first goal since joining the club.

But Maxi Gomez responded for Valencia with 20 minutes left. The outcome could have been worse for the hosts if not for a solid performance by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

And Gomez’s equalizer spoiled the celebration of Messi’s matching the record set by Brazilian legend Pele of 643 goals with the same club.

The Argentine superstar reached the mark in 748 appearances for Barcelona over the course of 16 years. Pele reached 643 goals in 659 matches for Santos.

The draw leaves Barça in fifth place with 21 points. Valencia are 12th in LaLiga with 15 points.

A visit to Pamplona for a contest with last-place Osasuna proved to be just what Villarreal needed to return to the win column after four straight draws.

Gerard Moreno staked the visitors to an early lead with a goal in the 7th minute and Fernando Niño doubled the advantage before the half-hour mark, about 10 minutes after Osasuna were reduced to 10 men with the ejection of Aridane Hernandez on a straight red card.

Roberto Torres clawed back a goal for the hosts with a successful penalty in the 70th minute before Moreno got a second with four minutes left in regulation.

Villarreal are now 4 points ahead of Barcelona, though the Blaugrana have a game in hand.

Trailing Barça by one are Sevilla, who were ahead 1-0 over Valladolid in the 87th minute on a first-half penalty by Lucas Ocampos when they conceded to Raul Garcia and let 2 points slip away.

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