BARCELONA, Spain — Fernando Torres’ first goal in the Spanish league this season gave Atletico Madrid a hard-fought 1-0 win over Alaves on Saturday and lifted the club into second place behind Barcelona.
Torres broke the deadlock five minutes after going on in the 69th with Atletico’s attack stifled by Alaves’ well-positioned defence.
Diego Simeone’s team took advantage of Valencia’s 2-1 loss at Eibar as Atletico moved two points ahead of its title rival. Barcelona is three points ahead of Atletico before hosting Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
"We knew that above all it was important to win today. We had been playing well and wanted to keep it going," Torres said. "Alaves played intelligently and didn’t allow us the spaces to create chances. We are happy for the win."
The former Liverpool and Chelsea striker made his run forward in sync with Sime Vrsaljko’s cross from the right flank before sliding to redirect the ball home with his left foot.
At 33 years old, Torres has had to settle for a role as a reserve player behind regular starters Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro. His goal was his first in any competition this campaign other than the brace he scored against Elche in the Copa del Rey.
Torres’ goal comes just before the arrival of even more competition in Atletico’s attack. Diego Costa and Victor "Vitolo" Machin will join the club in January when its ban on incorporating new players expires.
"I am happy for the goal that came after working so that the coach would play me," Torres said. "Now I just have to keep at it to get more minutes."
Despite its failure to reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League, Atletico is as sound as ever in the domestic competition where it is unbeaten through 16 rounds and has won four in a row.
Valencia took another blow to its surprise challenge for the league lead after losing its second consecutive away game.
Valencia forward Santi Mina equalized in the 57th to cancel out Takashi Inui’s opener for Eibar just after halftime.
But Eibar midfielder Joan Jordan powered in a header from a cross by Ivan Alejo to grab the 2-1 victory for the hosts with three minutes remaining.
The absence of suspended striker Simone Zaza and injured midfielder Carlos Soler showed as Valencia again dropped points away from its Mestalla Stadium. Valencia’s 1-0 defeat at Getafe two rounds ago ended its unbeaten season.
"We didn’t have the scoring touch we needed to take the lead and they took advantage of our inability to finish," Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said. "I don’t recall any other chances for Eibar other than the ones they turned into goals. We have to congratulate them for the win, but a draw would have been fair."
After only one win in the first eight rounds, Eibar has won four and drawn one to rise to seventh place and in contention for a Europa League berth.
Real Sociedad drew 0-0 at Athletic Bilbao in a Basque Country derby that left both stuck in their winless ruts.
Bilbao forward Raul Garcia had the clearest chance when he tried to surprise Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli with a long-range volley that Rulli had to parry wide in the 52nd.
Sociedad was left in ninth place as its winless run reached five matches. Bilbao is 13th after its fourth consecutive home game without a victory.
ON A BREAK
Taking a break from the Spanish league, Real Madrid won the Club World Cup on Saturday after beating Brazil’s Gremio 1-0 in the final in Abu Dhabi.
Madrid’s league game for Round 16 was postponed until a later date to allow the defending Champions League winner to play in the tournament.
Madrid is fourth in the Spanish league, eight points behind Barcelona.