Atletico maintain title push with narrow Villarreal win
Atletico Madrid's midfielder Raul Garcia (R) clashes with Villarreal's defender Gabriel Paulista during a Spanish league football match at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on April 5, 2014 - by Pedro Armestre
Raul Garcia headed home the only goal of the game after just 14 minutes from Koke's corner.
However, without top scorer Diego Costa through injury, Atletico were forced to hold for long periods and were lucky to see Toby Alderweireld's sliced clearance fly just wide of his own goal a minute from time.
Diego Simeone's men now lead Barcelona by four points with third-placed Real Madrid two points further back. Barca and Real, however, can cut the gap when they face Real Betis and Real Sociedad respectively later on Saturday.
As well as missing Costa due to a hamstring problem, Simeone was without Arda Turan and Gabi and made five changes in all from the side that started Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg.
Diego Ribas scored a memorable goal to open the scoring in midweek and he could have had another just four minutes in as he pulled off to the edge of the box to meet Koke's corner on the volley, but the ball flew over the bar.
The hosts did open the scoring from another Koke corner just nine minutes later as captain for the day Garcia headed home at the near post for his 16th goal of the season.
Atletico were then happy to sit on their lead as Villarreal enjoyed plenty of possession, but without their top goalscorers Giovani dos Santos and Ikechukwu Uche they lacked a goalscoring threat in the final third.
Villarreal continued to enjoy the bulk of the play after the break and Cani wasted a good opening as he dragged a shot from the edge of the box wide after a fine passing move.
Simeone was pressed into making all three substitutions early on in the second-half as he tried to wrestle back some control of the game.
But Villarreal kept coming forward and Jeremy Perbet was inches away from an equaliser as his curling effort dipped onto the roof of the net.
Disaster nearly struck for Atletico a minute from time when Alderweireld turned Moi Gomez's low cross inches past his own post.
However, the leaders held on for a third straight 1-0 at home in La Liga to remain in pole position with just six games left to play.