Paco Alcácer and Gerard Moreno scored two superb goals to help Villarreal beat regional rival Valencia 2-0 on Sunday and stay in the fight for a Champions League berth.
Moreno passed for Alcácer to execute an excellent volley and give Villarreal the 14th-minute lead at its home stadium, which like all soccer grounds in Spain was closed to fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreno added a second goal just before halftime off a brilliant pass from Santi Cazorla in an impressive team move. Cazorla used a subtle touch to cushion a long ball lobbed forward by his goalkeeper and kept it aloft for Moreno to smash home.
Villarreal is one of the hottest sides in the league since play resumed after a three-month stoppage while authorities tackled the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
Javier Calleja’s team has earned 13 of a possible 15 points since the restart and is now three points from fourth place and the last Champions League spot. Villareal has kept a clean sheet in those four wins.
“The biggest change for our team from before the stoppage has been our improvement in defense,” Calleja said. “All our players get along well and they are helping each other out on the pitch.
“We are close to the Champions League and don’t put any limits on what we can aspire to.”
Valencia is among the worst performers since the resumption of the league with teams having to play a game every three days, instead of the more usual once a week, to wrap up the competition by July 19. Valencia has won four of 15 points, and is eight points from fourth-place Sevilla.
Coach Albert Celades, who has had run-ins with players recently, said he did not fear for his job despite the bad run of results.
Also on Sunday, Levante beat Real Betis 4-2 after scoring four times before the visitors pulled two goals back. Both teams were left in the middle of the standings.
Later, Real Madrid plays last-place Espanyol seeking a win to overtake leader Barcelona after it drew at Celta Vigo on Saturday.