Valencia ends Athletic Bilbao's unbeaten run with win in Spanish league
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Valencia ended Athletic Bilbao’s 14-game unbeaten streak across all competitions after edging the Basque club 1-0 in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Striker Hugo Duro tilted the closely contested match at Mestalla Stadium in the hosts’ favor in the 61st minute when he outjumped Yuri Berchiche and headed in José Gayà's cross to the far post.
Athletic, which only fields players from the Basque Country region and neighboring areas, has surpassed expectations this season. Ernesto Valverde's side entered the round in third place and is in the thick of a fight for a Champions League berth. Barcelona is level on points with Athletic and the defending champions visit Real Betis on Sunday. Athletic’s previous defeat was at Barcelona in October.
Athletic’s defense, anchored by Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón, had only conceded one goal to an opposing player in its previous nine games overall before Duro struck the winner with his powerful header. It was his ninth goal of the campaign.
“It was a difficult game against an Athletic that was on a great run," Duro said. “But this is Mestalla and we got great support from our fans.”
Valencia contained Athletic’s attack led by Nico Williams and Oihan Sancet. Athletic's best chance to equalize came in the 79th when Unai Gómez forced Giorgi Mamardashvili to get a hand down to block his shot.
“We had control of the game for long stretches but weren’t able to translate that into clear scoring chances,” Valverde said. “We had one good chance. They also had one, and Hugo Duro made the difference.”
Valencia bounced back from being ousted from the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo midweek with a fourth consecutive league win to move into seventh place.
Athletic was without forward Iñaki Williams, who is with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Athletic’s next game is at home on Wednesday when it hosts Barcelona in a Copa del Rey quarterfinal clash between the two clubs with the most cup titles.
Brais Méndez curled a left-footed shot from well outside the area inside the post to give Real Sociedad a 1-0 win at his former club Celta Vigo. The midfielder also hit the woodwork with a free kick.
Méndez's 11th-minute goal helped Sociedad remain in sixth and break a run of four league games without a victory.
Las Palmas continued to impress after the team from the Canary Islands won 2-0 at Rayo Vallecano to climb into eighth.
Alberto Moleiro and Javi Muñoz scored for the visitors, while Rayo played the final 10 minutes a man down after Álvaro García received a second yellow card.
Francisco García Pimienta, a former reserve and youth team coach for Barcelona, took over Las Palmas a year ago and helped it win promotion. He has since forged Las Palmas into one of the top defenses in Spain while also deploying an attack that wants possession. Its 17 goals conceded is the second lowest of the 20-team topflight behind Real Madrid’s 11.
Villarreal came up short of victory yet again after Mallorca snatched a 1-1 draw in injury time.
Javi Llabrés went on for Mallorca in the 88th minute and slipped into the area to knock in a cross just moments later to cancel out Alexander Sorloth’s opener for the hosts. It was the 21-year-old Llabrés’ first goal for Mallorca.
Villarreal has gone winless in four games overall, including a loss to a third-division team in the Copa del Rey last week.
Cadiz announced the firing of coach Sergio González a day after a loss at Alaves left it in the relegation zone.
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