Atletico Madrid remain in touch with leaders Real Madrid and Barcelona after Jackson Martinez ended his La Liga scoring drought in the 2-1 win over Valencia.
Former Porto star Martinez was on target in Wednesday night’s 4-0 Champions League win over Astana – his first goal since a maiden Atleti goal at Sevilla on August 30.
The instincts that established the 29-year-old as one of Europe’s most feared strikers during his time in Portugal appeared sharper as Valencia left the Vicente Calderon empty handed on Sunday – in large part down to the comedy of defensive errors that let Martinez open the scoring in the 32nd minute.
Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco added a sublime second before half-time and, although Paco Alcacer reduced the arrears with a 72nd-minute penalty, Diego Simeone’s team thoroughly deserved to close to within two points of Madrid and Barca.
Alcacer came on after striker Rodrigo sustained an apparent Achilles injury – further food for thought for Valencia coach Nuno, whose side are nine points off the pace in eighth.
Both teams spurned chances during a lively opening, with the first falling to Valencia in the fourth minute.
Rodrigo met Dani Parejo’s flighted free-kick with a glancing header, but Shkodran Mustafi was unable to turn home at the back post despite appearing well-placed to do so.
Atletico responded through midfield talisman Koke, who burst into the penalty area from the left to drill a shot against goalkeeper Jaume Domenech’s legs.
Rodrigo cleverly teed-up Joao Cancelo to force Atleti’s Jan Oblak into a save with his feet in the 22nd minute. In attempting to retrieve the loose ball the forward went to ground and left the field on a stretcher.
Fellow forward Martinez experienced somewhat contrasting fortunes when he was gifted the opening goal by some haphazard Valencia defending 10 minutes later.
Mustafi and Andre Santos both swiped at and missed Filipe Luis’ hopeful punt forward, leaving Martinez free to slot home.
The Colombia international got the better of his markers once more to be denied by Domenech, who plunged to his right to brilliantly keep out Diego Godin’s header from the resulting corner.
But there was little the visiting keeper could do five minutes before half-time when Ferreira-Carrasco skipped past Cancelo’s challenge and fizzed a low 25-yard strike beyond his despairing dive.
A succession of feisty tackles as the interval approached brought the match close to boiling point, with Atletico defender Jose Gimenez fortunate to escape censure for a two-footed attempt to play the ball that endangered Santi Mina.
A speculative prod towards goal on the end of Koke’s shot and a clawing save saw Martinez and Domenech renew acquaintances five minutes into the second period.
Martinez made way to a standing ovation with an hour played, Fernando Torres entering the fray, before Atletico’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann steered Ferreira-Carrasco’s deflected cross into the side netting after 68 minutes.
The Belgium international was also substituted to a similarly triumphant din, but thought of the match petering out were put on hold when Godin hauled down Mustafi and Alcacer stroked home the resulting penalty.
Simeone’s men were not tempted to rest on their laurels, with Tiago and Torres ensuring that Domenech ended his evening as the busier goalkeeper.