Atletico beat Valencia to edge towards title
Atletico Madrid's midfielder Raul Garcia celebrates his goal during the Spanish league football match Valencia CF vs Atletico de Madrid at El Mestalla stadium in Valencia on April 27, 2014 - by Jose Jordan
Raul Garcia got the only goal of the game just before half-time to secure a ninth straight league win and move Los Rojiblancos within two more victories of sealing the championship with three games remaining.
Victory takes Atletico six points clear of Real Madrid having played a game more and seven ahead of Barcelona, who can cut the gap with a win away to Villarreal later on Sunday.
"We have two incredibly powerful teams behind us that will give everything and won't allow us to relax," insisted Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
"We have to continue being calm and take every game as it comes."
Despite the second leg of his side's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea being just three days away, Simeone named a strong side with David Villa and Tiago coming into the side that started the first leg against the English club in midweek.
However, Simeone claimed important victories for both Atletico, and Chelsea over Liverpool on Sunday, won't make any difference at Stamford Bridge come Wednesday.
"The league doesn't have anything to do with the Champions League. Chelsea have a great team as they have shown by rotating players and still winning 2-0 today. They are a very strong team that will cause us a lot of problems."
The visitors started slowly but began to work themselves into the game as the first-half developed and Villa was inches away from a spectacular goal against his former club as his shot from outside the box swerved just off target.
Atletico made the vital breakthrough two minutes before half-time when Gabi's lofted ball into the area picked out the run of Garcia and he cushioned a header in off the inside of the post to register his 17th goal of the season.
Diego Costa should have put the game to bed six minutes into the second half when he was played clean through on goal, but he delayed his shot and allowed Vicente Guaita to save with an outstretched leg.
- Nervous finish -
The league leaders then had to survive a nervous final half hour as Valencia pinned them back in search of an equaliser.
Filipe Luis did well to divert Sofiane Feghouli's header wide at the back post and the Algerian midfielder came close again moments later when his rasping shot flew just wide of the far post.
Costa had another great chance to seal the three points five minutes from time, but again Guaita did enough to deny the Spanish international as he tried to round the 'keeper.
Atletico ended the game with 10 men as Juanfran saw a straight red card for cynically scything down Piatti as Valencia threatened to counter-attack deep into stoppage time.
However, it mattered little as Simeone's men saw out the remaining final seconds without any scares to move ever closer to the title.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao strengthened their grip on Spain's fourth Champions League place for next season with a 3-1 win over Sevilla at San Mames.
Markel Susaeta scored directly from a corner after just four minutes to give the hosts the perfect start and Iker Muniain doubled Athletic's advantage with a fine volleyed finish just after half-time.
Sevilla's Diogo Figueiras was then sent off for a second bookable offence and Ander Herrera added a third a minute later.
Kevin Gameiro pulled a goal back for Sevilla 11 minutes from time, but their chances of Champions League football now seem all but gone as they trail Athletic by six points with just three games remaining.