Atletico beats Valladolid, takes provisional lead

JOSEPH WILSON Associated Press Published:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Raul Garcia scored and set up Diego Costa's 21st Spanish league goal of the season on Saturday, helping Atletico Madrid rebound from a three-game losing run by beating Valladolid 3-0 at home and provisionally go top outright.

Barcelona needs a victory over Rayo Vallecano later to pull even with Atletico, while Real Madrid will have to wait until Sunday's game at Getafe to try and retain its share of first place.

Atletico regained its winning form in time for Wednesday's visit to AC Milan for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone had said fatigue was behind his team's recent slump, which included two losses to Madrid in the Copa de Rey semifinals.

Garcia's third-minute opener, before he passed for Diego Costa to score only a minute later, let Atletico enjoy a comfortable win that Diego Godin capped in the 74th.

The pacesetters also had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker David Villa return from injury absences.

Atletico dominated after Garcia slotted in a right-footed strike from just inside the area to convert a nicely executed set piece from a free kick.

The attacking midfielder then found Diego Costa on the break with a long pass that the Brazilian-born striker used one touch to lob over goalkeeper Diego Marino, who was caught off his line. Diego Costa only trails Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and his 22 goals as the league's leading scorer.

Valladolid never tested Courtois, and Godin headed home the hosts' third goal moments after teammate Mario Suarez had headed off the crossbar.

"When you talk about set pieces you are talking about many hours of work, of staying focused and playing with intensity," Simeone said. "My players executed very well. It was great. The second goal was all about (Garcia's) vision as a playmaker and Diego's finishing touch."

In Valencia, Levante extended its undefeated streak to six rounds thanks to its stout defense and David Barral's solo effort to beat visiting Almeria 1-0.

Barral used an acrobatic kick to loop Nabil El Zhar's cross inside the post in the 62nd. However, Levante needed another superb save from goalkeeper Keylor Navas to swat Oscar Diaz's shot onto the goalframe in the 89th to ensure it provisionally rose to seventh.

Villarreal hosts Celta Vigo also later.