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Atletico thrash Betis to tighten grip on second

Atletico’s thumping victory, their ninth in 10 outings this term, trimmed the gap to Barca back to one point after the champions had pulled four clear thanks to a 2-1 win at home to Real Madrid in Saturday’s ‘Clasico’.

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It also stretched their lead over third-placed Real to five points and was the latest evidence Diego Simeone’s side may be genuine contenders for the title alongside vastly wealthier rivals Barca and Real come the end of the season.

Joseba Llorente set the record for the quickest La Liga goal in January 2008 when he scored for Real Valladolid after seven seconds and many of the spectators at the Calderon had yet to take their seats when Torres struck.

Playmaker Koke broke clear on the left of the penalty area and his low cross found its way to the 18-year-old midfielder, who calmly stroked the ball into the net with a mere 14 seconds on the clock.

Betis regrouped but struggled to create any chances for an equaliser before Villa, who joined Atletico from Barca in the close season, made it 2-0 with a superb glancing header eight minutes after halftime.

The Spain forward finished off a sweeping breakaway move with a thumping shot four minutes later and then set up La Liga top scorer Diego Costa to score his 11th of the campaign in the 65th minute.

Atletico captain Gabi capped a near-perfect night for the home side and brought another beaming smile to Simeone’s face when he drove home a loose ball in the second minute of added time to complete the rout.

“I am happy above all for the goals and helping the team is always important,” Villa said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.

The 31-year-old, Spain’s all-time record scorer, had warm words of praise for Torres, a Spain Under-21 international who was included in the Atletico starting lineup for the first time in his fledgling career.

“The lad has a fantastic future ahead of him and that’s why it’s important not to rush him,” Villa said.

“He put in a great performance today and people will have many, many years to enjoy this lad.

“We have to be patient as he has all he needs to be a special player.”

Unbeaten Barca have 28 points, with Atletico on 27 and Real on 22. Betis, who are competing in the Europa League after finishing seventh last term, are 18th on eight points.

EVENTFUL AFTERNOON

Fourth-placed Villarreal continued their impressive form since winning promotion back to the top flight and closed to within two points of Real when they thrashed regional rivals Valencia 4-1 at their Madrigal stadium.

It was an eventful afternoon for Villarreal’s Mexico forward Giovani Dos Santos, who scored a brilliant second goal after netting his first moments after fluffing a penalty.

Ikechukwu Uche and Hernan Perez also struck for the home side, while Ricardo Costa scored for Valencia as they slipped to a second straight defeat and are down in 11th position.

An Antoine Griezmann double set Real Sociedad on their way to a 3-0 win at home to Almeria that lifted the San Sebastian-based club, who have lost all three of their Champions League games this term, to ninth.

Sevilla won 2-1 at home to 10-man Osasuna and are 10th.

There is a midweek round of La Liga games this week, starting with Barca at Celta Vigo on Tuesday. Real host Sevilla on Wednesday and Atletico play at Granada on Thursday.

(Editing by Toby Davis)

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