Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao gestures during the La Liga match against Valencia on March 31, 2013. (AP Photo)
Barcelona: Atletico Madrid squandered a chance to reclaim second place in the Spanish league when they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Valencia on Sunday. Despite missing several first-choice players to injury, Valencia dominated the first half at Vicente Calderon Stadium, especially exposing the hosts on the flanks. Atletico needed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to bail out their frazzled defence, even after Radamel Falcao had levelled the score just seconds after Jonas had scored for Valencia.
After winning their first 13 home games in the league, Atletico are now winless in two straight matches to sit one point behind Real Madrid. Barcelona are cruising to the league title with a 13-point advantage and nine rounds to go. "It was a complicated game, but we have to win at home," said Courtois. "We want to finish in the Champions League spots but we also want to end up in second place. Barcelona is too far away, but second place is close. Madrid has the Champions League, so it will tire more. If we win our games, it's possible."
Jonas put Valencia ahead in the fifth minute when defender Miranda allowed him to receive Joao Pereira's pass in the area, take his time to turn and drive the ball under Courtois. Falcao hit right back with his 22nd league goal this season by catching Andres Guardado trying too late to spring the offside trap and acrobatically volleying in Arda Turan's cross at the far post. Atletico improved after half-time and shifted the action to Valencia's area, but failed to create a clear chance.
"The first half was ours, but we had little to show for it," said Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde. "We controlled the midfield yet lacked punch in the final few meters."
Valencia remained in sixth place, two points behind fourth-place Real Sociedad, who drew 2-2 at Espanyol. Also, last-place Deportivo La Coruna edged out Mallorca 3-2 for their first away win of the season to boost their hopes of escaping the relegation zone, while Osasuna beat Valladolid 3-1 thanks to Kike Sola's double.
Sociedad trailed twice before drawing at Espanyol to extend their league-best run of just one loss in their last 19 games. Espanyol's disciplined defence kept Sociedad in check until the Basque side pressed for victory in the final 20 minutes but had to settle for a point.
Sociedad midfielder David Zurutuza cancelled out Sergio Garcia's ninth-minute opener by deftly lobbing into the net following a clearance by goalkeeper Kiko Casilla that fell to him outside the box in the 23rd. Garcia floated a cross for Christian Stuani to stab home in the 39th, but Sociedad's passing attack finally gained the initiative and paid off in the 76th when Espanyol defender Javi Garcia redirected Antoine Griezmann's low cross into his own net.
Sociedad moved one point clear of Malaga in the race for a top-four finish and Champions League berth. Espanyol are unbeaten in eight home games under coach Javier Aguirre.
Sociedad coach Philippe Montanier was satisfied with the away draw and applauded his player's homegrown roots. "Today we played with 10 players formed in our youth program and nine who played in the second division three years ago," said Montanier. "The squad showed that it has a lot of quality."
Already facing a must-win game, Deportivo looked finished when Victor Casadesus opened for Mallorca in the 19th. But defender Silvio Azevedo sparked Deportivo to life with a superb individual effort to score in the 27th. Carlos Marchena then scrambled in Deportivo's second goal in the 48th, and Ivan "Riki" Sanchez nodded in a rebound to make it 3-1 in the 60th.
Mallorca forward Alejandro Alfaro cut the deficit with a goal four minutes from time, but the visitors clung to the three points. Deportivo remained bottom of the table despite their first back-to-back wins of the season, just one point below fellow drop-zone members Mallorca and Celta Vigo. Safety is another three points away.
"After winning here and at Celta we have moved a little closer to staying up," said Fernando Vazquez, Deportivo's third coach of their strife-filled season. "If Mallorca was nervous, imagine how we were. These psychological factors are difficult to evaluate, but it's true that Mallorca is also in a tough situation."
On Saturday, it was Celta Vigo 2, Barcelona 2; Real Zaragoza 1, Madrid 1; Malaga 3, Rayo Vallecano 1; and Levante 1, Sevilla 0. Real Betis hosts Getafe on Monday, while Granada visits Athletic Bilbao.