A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:
Valencia 3-2 Almeria
Don’t look now, Atletico Madrid (38 points), but you’ve got some pretty serious challengers for third place in La Liga. Thanks to a late winner from Alvaro Negredo against Almeria on Saturday, Valencia (38, one more game played) currently hold down Spain’s most prized spot behind Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Now unbeaten in six league games (four wins, two draws), Los Che look primed to challenge for top-three honors all the way to the very end. Daniel Parejo gave Valencia the lead after 11 minutes, only to see Almeria’s Tommer Hemed hit right back with a goal of his own two minutes later. Rodrigo put Valencia back in front with a close-range finish on 28 minutes, but Hemed again respond quickly, pulling his side level again in the 33rd minute.
The Rojiblancos had no answer for Negredo’s header from six yards out, though, as the on-loan Manchester City forward secured all three points with his 83rd-minute goal and further solidified the Champions League chase of Nuno Espirito Santo’s men.
Villarreal 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Midfielders Denis Cheryshev and Bruno Soriano bagged goals late in each half to give Villarreal all three points and strengthen their place in the upper-third of La Liga. Just two years after being relegated from Spain’s top division, and one year after coming straight back up, El Submarino Amarillo are making a serious Champions League push of their own (sixth place, 35 points).
Elsewhere in La Liga
Real Sociedad 0-1 Rayo Vallecano
Espanyol 1-0 Celta Vigo
Sunday’s La Liga schedule
Getafe vs. Real Madrid (6 am ET)
Ateletico Madrid vs. Granada (11 am ET)
Deportivo La Coruña vs. Barcelona (1 pm ET)
Sevilla vs. Malaga (3 pm ET)
Elche vs. Levante (3 pm ET)
Empoli 0-0 Inter Milan
It’s not a great time to be Inter Milan (ninth place, 26 points). The Nerazzurri have won all of two of eight league games since Roberto Mancini returned as first-team manager. Inter’s latest disappointment came against 14th-placed Empoli (19 points) as Mancini’s men were out-shot 18-8 (5-1 on target) and out-possessed 61-39.
Furthermore, Inter completed just 65 percent of their passes as they spent prolonged spells deep inside their own half as Empoli — again, the 14th-placed team in Italy — were the only ones who ever looked likely to break the deadlock. At this point, it’s an invaluable point for Inter in their bid to finish higher than their equally insipid neighbors, AC Milan (10th place, 26 points, one fewer games played).
Palermo 1-1 Roma
Every time league leaders Juventus (43 points) leave a window cracked for Roma (second place, 41, one more game played) to jump back in the title race, the Giallorossi slam that window shut on themselves, and proceed to try to jump through it anyway. When Juve drew Inter a week and a half ago, Roma suddenly found themselves just a point back of the three-time defending champions.
Since then, Roma have drawn Lazio (OK, it’s the Rome derby) and now middling Palermo. Paulo Dybala put the hosts a goal ahead after just two minutes with a clinical finish from 12 yards out. Roma were the dominant side as they out-possessed and out-shot Palermo throughout the 90 minutes, but could muster only a 54th-minute goal from Mattia Destro to leave with a point. With a victory on Sunday, Juve will once again go five points clear.
Sunday’s Serie A schedule
Lazio vs. Napoli (6:30 am ET)
AC Milan vs. Atalanta (9 am ET)
Parma vs. Sampdoria (9 am ET)
Udinese vs. Cagliari (9 am ET)
Cesena vs. Torino (9 am ET)
Chievo vs. Fiorentina (9 am ET)
Genoa vs. Sassuolo (9 am ET)
Juventus vs. Hellas Verona (2:45 ET)