Barcelona: Real Sociedad striker Imanol Agirretxe scored two goals and set up a third in a highly entertaining 4-2 comeback win over Valencia on Sunday. Sociedad's victory strengthened their hold on fourth place and Spain's last Champions League berth by increasing their lead to five points over fifth-place Valencia with five rounds left.
"We took advantage of the chances we had," said Agirretxe, who took his tally to 11 goals this season. "This was an important step forward for us but it is not over. We still have to keep fighting."
After Roberto Soldado put visiting Valencia in front with a header in the 25th minute, Uruguayan forward Gonzalo "Chori" Castro helped Sociedad rally by crossing for defender Inigo Martinez to deftly volley home in the 38th. Chori then tilted the contest in the hosts' favor in the 73rd when he finished off a brilliant counterattack, weaving together an elegant passing combination with Agirretxe before beating goalkeeper Diego Alves one-on-one.
Agirretxe appeared to have put the result beyond doubt in the 86th by converting Xabi Prieto's cross. But Valencia wasn't done, and Jonas charged in to head home a ball in the 90th that Claudio Bravo had done well to save to add drama to stoppage time.
Agirretxe, however, stuck again with Valencia's defense thrown forward in a last-gasp push when he won the ball near midfield, dribbled forward into Valencia's area and scored with a chip that Diego Alves didn't even bother trying to stop from sailing over him and into the net.
Agirretxe described the chance to play in Europe's top-tier competitions as "historic for his group of players," many of whom helped Sociedad win promotion three seasons ago.
"Pressure? We are enjoying this and playing well every week," Agirretxe said.
Sociedad extended their unbeaten run to 15 games. They have only lost once in the past 23 rounds. Also on Sunday, Granada won 1-0 at Espanyol to escape the relegation zone, Malaga beat Getafe 2-1, and Sevilla drew 1-1 at Valladolid.
Granada forward Manuel "Nolito" Agudo curled a free kick over the wall that grazed the underside of the crossbar before settling into the net for what proved to be the 37th-minute winner. Espanyol improved after half-time but Granada's defense held firm to get their first win in 10 rounds.
"We played a no-nonsense game, solid in defense and willing to help one another," said Granada coach Luis Alcaraz. "Nolito scored a great goal. We bettered Espanyol in the score and surpassed them in our need to win."
Granada rose two points above Real Zaragoza and Celta Vigo, which are both facing the drop along with last-place Mallorca, a further two points behind.
It was Espanyol's first loss in 10 home games under replacement coach Javier Aguirre. Malaga's win over Getafe pulled them even with Valencia.
Malaga are currently in the Europa League positions, but they are banned by UEFA for one season for not paying wages and taxes on time. Even so, Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said his team "will keep fighting to finish as high up the standings as possible."
Roque Santa Cruz and Weligton scored for Malaga in the 40th and 47th before Juan Valera pulled one back for mid-table Getafe in the 70th. In Valladolid, striker Javi Guerra gave the hosts the lead in the 41st when he finished off a counterattack by scooping the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper after Patrick Ebert played him through Sevilla's defense.
Sevilla forward Alvaro Negredo drove a spot kick down the middle after Marc Valiente had blocked a cross in the area with his arm to equalize in the 62nd. It was Negredo's 19th goal of the season, the fourth highest total in Spain's topflight. Both Negredo and Guerra had chances to break the deadlock.
Sevilla have only one win in 17 games away from home this season. They crept into 10th place ahead of Espanyol and Valladolid. Barcelona lead the league by 11 points after drawing 2-2 at Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid's 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid. Also on Saturday, Real Zaragoza beat Mallorca 3-2, and Celta Vigo won 1-0 at Levante. On Friday, Osasuna drew 2-2 at Rayo Vallecano 2-2. Real Betis host Deportivo La Coruna on Monday.