BARCELONA, Spain -- Diego Costa became a one-man wrecking crew to lead Atletico Madrid to a 3-0 home win over Valencia on Sunday, scoring two second-half goals and earning a pair of penalties to ensure Diego Simeone's side retained its share of the Spanish league lead with Barcelona.
The Brazilian-born striker's brace drew him level with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo as the league's leading scorers with 17 goals apiece through 16 rounds.
"The important thing is to help the team win, not the goals," Diego Costa said.
After a first half dominated by defence, Atletico pressed Valencia into its area and Diego Costa did the rest. He used a burst of speed capped with a stinging strike to beat goalkeeper Diego Alves on a counterattack for the 59th-minute opener.
Raul Garcia went on in the 61st for David Villa to reinforce Atletico's midfield and two minutes later fired in a loose ball.
Another charge into the area earned Diego Costa his first of two penalties when Victor Ruiz brought him down, only for Diego Alves to save his spot kick in the 74th.
But Diego Costa again forced defender Antonio Barragan to foul him as he penetrated the box. This time he blasted the ball over the goalie in the 81st, sealing Atletico's eighth win in as many league games at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
"We just go forward game by game," Diego Costa said. "We know that it will be very tough and the league is long, but we will keep fighting to keep this going."
Atletico's title challenge gains strength with each passing round as it keeps pace with defending champion Barcelona and has crosstown Real Madrid trailing by five points. It has allowed a league-low nine goals and has found its scorer in Diego Costa, helped by Villa and Garcia, who have combined for another 15 goals in league play.
"I always want more," Simeone said. "I don't want my team to be passive. I want the team to always push and never be satisfied. It is very tough to keep up with Barcelona, its numbers are stratospheric."
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad's promising playmaker Ruben Pardo set up three goals to mastermind a 5-1 rout of bottom side Real Betis.
Sociedad may have flopped out of the Champions League, but has found its form in the domestic competition where it has won six of its last eight games and climbed into sixth place and the Europa League positions.
The hosts overwhelmed Betis on the league debut of coach Juan Carlos Garrido, who replaced the fired Pepe Mel. The Seville-based side is now winless in the last nine rounds.
Pardo passed for two goals by striker Imanol Agirretxe and another from defender Jon Ansotegi. Antoine Griezmann scored his 10th goal in the league this season, leaving him third overall behind Diego Costa and Ronaldo. Xabi Prieto rounded out the victory.
"It's clear this is the way we need keep playing to go forward and not relax at any moment," said the 21-year-old Pardo, who was given an ovation when substituted late. "Everyone loves being applauded and for people to scream your name, but I am staying calm. I need to keep working to please our fans and, above all, help the team."
Athletic Bilbao drew 1-1 at Sevilla to remain in fourth place and the last Champions League spot, but eight points adrift of Madrid.
Almeria settled for a 0-0 draw at home against Espanyol after its coach was ejected from the dugouts and Jose "Verza" Garcia missed a penalty he had to repeat in the first half.
Verza missed a 23rd-minute penalty he had to repeat after Almeria teammate Oscar Diaz had entered the area during his first attempt, which he converted.
Almeria coach Francisco Rodriguez was ejected during a scuffle between both teams near the dugouts in the 32nd.