Madrid (AFP) – Villarreal moved above Real Madrid and into the top four after a 2-1 win over Levante that saw them leapfrog the struggling champions and pile more pressure on Real coach Zinedine Zidane.
A 26th-minute penalty from Manu Trigueros and Real youth product Denis Cheryshev’s first league goal in nearly two years saw Javier Calleja’s side, who beat Real at the Bernabeu for the first time ever last week, move up to 34 points and two ahead of Real.
Zidane’s team are fifth, level on 32 points with Sevilla, who crushed Espanyol 3-0 in a dominant display in Catalonia that gave Vincenzo Montella his first league win since arriving in Spain in late December.
The last time Real finished outside the top four was in 2000, when they placed fifth but won the Champions League — a year before coach Zidane had even signed for the club as a player.
Cheryshev’s tap-in, the first goal in La Liga for the injury-plagued attacker since March 2016, sealed the deal against Levante, who pulled one back with a stoppage-time penalty from Roger.
Russian international Cheryshev clattered into the post after charging down the left flank to tap home Enes Unal’s low cross, but after some time on the ground in pain, struggled on until being substituted in the 65th minute.
Antoine Griezmann’s first goal in six league games wasn’t enough for Atletico Madrid as they drew 1-1 with Girona and gave Barcelona a chance to extend their lead at the top of La Liga.
Griezmann lashed home a brave Diego Costa knockdown in the 34th minute but Portu snatched a shock equaliser for the away side 17 minutes from time, meaning that Atletico stay second and move up to 43 points, five ahead of Valencia, who can draw level with Atletico if they win at Las Palmas later.
The draw at the Wanda Metropolitano means that Barca can move 11 points clear with a win at Real Betis on Sunday and almost end discussion over the La Liga title.
Costa made his mark again on Saturday, with his second assist since returning from Chelsea adding to his three goals in five games in all competitions.
He lay down in a heap after being clattered by Girona keeper Bono as he headed on for Griezmann, but it was the stopper who came off worse and had to be substituted at half-time.