Atletico routs Sevilla 5-2, continues its chase of Barcelona
By TALES AZZONI
MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid is making it clear that it won't let up in its pursuit of Spanish league leader Barcelona.
Atletico sent a strong message about its intentions on Sunday by routing Sevilla 5-2 with a hat trick by Antoine Griezmann in Seville. Diego Costa and Koke also scored for Atletico as it took advantage of a disastrous defensive performance by Sevilla, which gave away three goals on individual blunders.
The resounding victory at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium left Atletico seven points behind Barcelona, which trounced Girona 6-1 on Saturday.
Third-place Real Madrid, which defeated Alaves 4-0 on Saturday, is seven points behind Atletico.
Sevilla dropped to sixth place, 10 points behind four-place Valencia in the last qualification spot for the Champions League.
Costa opened the scoring after Ever Banega's mistake in the 29th minute. The midfielder didn't notice that the Atletico striker was behind him while trying to play a ball just outside the area, and easily lost possession.
Griezmann added to the lead just before halftime by evading three defenders before hitting the top corner from outside the area. The France forward scored his second early in the second half by converting a penalty kick after Costa was fouled by goalkeeper Sergio Rico following another defensive mistake by Sevilla. Defender Clement Lenglet tried to clear a ball with a header but ended up giving it away to Costa.
Griezmann set up Koke's close-range goal less than 15 minutes later after the third mistake by the Sevilla defense, this time by Gabriel Mercado. He passed the ball back to Rico without noticing that Griezmann was nearby to pick it up and pass it back to Koke with a backheel touch inside the area.
Griezmann scored again after a pass by Saul Niguez in the 81st.
Sevilla added its late consolation goals through Pablo Sarabia in the 85th and Nolito in the 89th.
It was Atletico's seventh win in a row since being eliminated by Sevilla in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.
"Almost everything went our way today," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
Valencia kept a safe distance from its closest challengers for the last Champions League spot by defeating Real Sociedad 2-1 and extending its winning streak to three matches.
Santi Mina scored a goal in each half at Mestalla Stadium to keep Valencia eight points in front of fifth-place Villarreal, which defeated Getafe 1-0 earlier.
Valencia trails third-place Real Madrid by two points and Atletico by nine points.
"It's never easy to win in the first division, especially in the second half of the season, when every team is trying to add points to reach their goals," said Mina, Valencia's top scorer in the league with 11. "We can't let up in this final part of the season because we know it's going to be difficult."
Sergio Asenjo saved two penalty kicks as Villarreal held on to a 1-0 win against Getafe, ending a five-match winless streak and moving to fifth place.
Enes Unal scored from close range three minutes into the match for the hosts, and Asenjo stopped a penalty taken by Angel Rodriguez in the first half and another by Jorge Molina in the second.
"Asenjo was key," Villarreal coach Javier Calleja said. "He is the type of player who gives you points. He gave us three points today with his penalty saves."
Villarreal had lost four of its last five matches in all competitions.
Getafe hadn't lost in six matches.
It was an up-and-down game for Moroccan forward Youssef En-Nesyri, who scored a goal, missed a penalty and was red carded in Malaga's 2-1 loss at Athletic Bilbao.
En-Nesyri opened the scoring from inside the area in the 13th, had his penalty stopped by a superb save by Athletic goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 61st and was sent off with a second yellow card for a dangerous foul in the 84th.
Athletic was already ahead 2-1 when En-Nesyri missed the penalty.
It was Athletic's first league win in seven matches.
Malaga stayed last with its fourth straight loss. It hasn't won in 10 matches.
There was a minute's silence in honor of the police officer who died after cardiac arrest during fan violence outside Athletic's San Mames Stadium before a Europa League match against Spartak Moscow on Thursday. Other matches also observed a period of silence.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga
Updated February 25, 2018