MADRID — Former Italy manager Cesare Prandelli got off to a winning start in his coaching debut in Spain.
Prandelli led Valencia to a 2-1 victory at Sporting Gijon on Sunday, which lifted the club out of the relegation zone.
Playing smart football with quick transitions and efficient ball possession, Valencia topped Sporting with two goals by striker Mario Suarez at El Molinon Stadium.
It was the team’s third win in eight rounds as Valencia reached 14th place with nine points, two more than Sporting, now in the relegation zone after its fifth straight loss.
"What I liked the most was the attitude of the team," Prandelli said. "I’m very happy, but we still have a lot to improve, we still need to work on many things. The three points gives the team confidence to keep working."
The top four teams in the league played on Saturday. Atletico Madrid thrashed Granada 7-1 to maintain its lead with 18 points. Real Madrid, which won 6-1 at Real Betis, also has 18 points, but a worse goal difference than the city rival.
Barcelona defeated Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 at home in the return of Lionel Messi, staying in fourth place with 16 points, one less than Sevilla, which won 3-2 at Leganes.
Valencia scored first with Suarez’s right-footed shot from inside the area after a cross in the seventh minute, but Sporting striker Carlos Castro equalized with a close-range header in the 41st.
Suarez’s winner came with an easy shot from in front of the goal after Sporting defenders failed to clear a ball crossed into the area in the 65th.
"It was important to get the win," Suarez said. "We have a new coach, new ideas, new concepts."
The 59-year-old Prandelli, who coached Italy from 2010-14, was hired just before the international break to replace Pako Ayestaran, who began the season with four straight losses.
"I’m trying to give the team an identity," Prandelli said. "Once we get that, we can start thinking about bigger goals."
Prandelli was announced as Valencia’s coach the day before a 2-0 loss to Atletico on Oct. 2, when the team was still led by interim coach Salvador "Voro" Gonzalez. The Italian is Valencia’s eighth full-time manager since Unai Emery’s four-year stint ended in 2012.
Owned by Singapore investor Peter Lim since 2014, Valencia is the last team other than Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico to win the league title, in 2004.
VILLARREAL 5, CELTA VIGO 0
Roberto Soriano scored two goals in the first 12 minutes to lead fifth-placed Villarreal to a comfortable win over Celta Vigo.
French striker Cedric Bakambu also scored in the first half as Villarreal earned its fourth victory, jumping to 16 points, two less than the leaders.
It was the team’s biggest win so far this season.
ATHLETIC BILBAO 3, REAL SOCIEDAD 2
Sixth-placed Athletic got the better of Basque rival Real Sociedad to earn its fifth win in its last six games.
The hosts conceded early at San Memes Stadium but rallied with three second-half goals, including a nice lob from outside the area by veteran striker Aritz Aduriz.
Athletic had won four in a row before a loss at Malaga in the previous round.
It trails leaders Atletico and Real Madrid by three points.
ALAVES 1, MALAGA 1
Promoted Alaves was close to winning for the third time this season until conceding a late goal against Malaga.
Brazilian striker Deyverson had put the hosts ahead in the ninth minute but Roberto Rosales evened the match in the 85th.
Alaves, which beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the third round, is ninth with 10 points. Malaga is 13th, one point behind.