Atletico Madrid leapfrogged Valencia into second in La Liga thanks to Fernando Torres’s first goal at the Wanda Metropolitano to edge out Alaves 1-0 on Saturday.
Valencia remain five points off leaders Barcelona in third after falling to a second defeat in three matches 2-1 at Eibar.
Barca can regain their six-point lead over Atletico and open up an 11-point gap over Real Madrid ahead of next weekend’s El Clasico between the two with victory over Deportivo la Coruna on Sunday.
Atletico remain unbeaten in La Liga this season, but had to wait until 16 minutes from time to breakdown a dogged Alaves, who had won their first two matches since Abelardo Fernandez was named the club’s third coach of the season earlier this month.
Torres had only been on the pitch six minutes when he stretched to fire home Sime Vrsaljko’s cross for his first league goal of the season.
‘I’m very happy to get the goal. When you score you always have the feeling that you have done a good job,’ Torres told BeIN Sports Spain.
Torres has started just one league game this season and is hoping his winner might encourage Diego Simeone to give him more opportunities.
‘I just have to keep fighting for more minutes and score decisive goals,’ he added.
Simeone hailed not only the impact of Torres, but also Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco from the bench as his side moved within three points of Barca and opened up a five-point lead over city rivals Real Madrid in fourth.
‘The introduction of Correa, Carrasco and above all Torres in the second half gave us that extra impetus the game was crying out for,’ said Simeone.
At the other end of the table, Alaves remain three points off safety in 18th.
As Atletico’s title charge gains momentum with a fourth straight win, Valencia’s unlikely challenge is beginning to falter.
Los Che missed the firepower offered by suspended top scorer Simone Zaza up front and even the return of playmaker Goncalo Guedes from injury as a second-half substitute failed to inspire Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side.
Eibar also took advantage of some meek Valencia defending as a poor clearance teed up Takashi Inui perfectly on the volley to smash home the opener at the near post four minutes after the break.
Valencia reacted well to that blow, though, as a dangerous low cross from Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira evaded two Eibar defenders and fell perfectly for Santi Mina to tap home his sixth goal of the season.