MADRID, Spain ● Radamel Falcao scored his 21st goal in the Spanish league this season to give 10-man Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Espanyol on Sunday, ensuring the team stays in second place before its Copa del Rey semifinal.
Falcao slotted a spot kick into the lower left corner of the net in the 37th minute at Vicente Calderon Stadium after one of several well-worked moves with strike partner Diego Costa.
Atletico played the entire second half a man down after midfielder Gabi Fernandez was sent off, but Espanyol failed to utilize its advantage.
“Our first half was good, but even with the dismissal our second half was even better,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. “Our effort was extraordinary.”
Elsewhere, Real Betis rolled over Malaga 3-0, Valladolid won 2-1 at Rayo Vallecano, and Celta Vigo beat Granada 2-1 in the debut of coach Abel Resino.
Atletico bounced back from the end of its Europa League title defence on Thursday in which it lost to Rubin Kazan with a 13th win in as many home games in the league this campaign.
The victory kept Atletico 12 points behind Barcelona and maintained its four-point gap over Real Madrid. It visits Sevilla on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal with a 2-1 lead.
Falcao and Brazilian forward Diego Costa posed problems for Espanyol’s defence all game. Diego Costa’s pressure, physical presence and orchestrated play with Falcao proved the difference in the contest that featured more fouls than scoring chances.
Gabi was dismissed in first-half injury time when he received his second booking for a low tackle on Joan Capdevila.
Despite playing with a numerical disadvantage, Atletico still dictated the pace of the match and controlled the ball more than the hapless Espanyol.
It was Espanyol’s first loss in six games and just its second in 12 rounds since the arrival of coach Javier Aguirre.
In Seville, midfielder Benat Etxebarria contributed to all three of Betis’ goals as it got its first win in six weeks while spoiling Malaga’s five-game undefeated streak.
Etxebarria placed two corner kicks for Jorge Molina and Mario Alvarez to turn into the net with headers in the first and 28th minutes, respectively.
The Basque playmaker then set up recent arrival Dorlan Pabon in the 45th with a delicate lobbed pass that Pabon netted on this second try after goalkeeper Willy Caballero stretched to keep out his initial header.
Malaga finished with 10 men after Ignacio Camacho saw his second yellow card in the 65th.
Betis climbed into seventh place, while Malaga stayed in fourth place just one point ahead of Valencia.
This is the second loss for Malaga in six days after it fell 1-0 at FC Porto in the opening leg of their last-16 tie in the Champions League.
“We are having a very bad week, with two very bad games,” said Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini. “When you lose twice in one week it’s reason to worry. We will analyze the situation, but there could be various reasons behind it.”
Manucho’s late winner gave Valladolid its victory in an entertaining match in which Rayo defender Jordi Amat scored at both ends.
In a meeting between the Spanish league’s two quiet surprises this season, the promoted Valladolid got the better of its fellow minnow thanks to an individual effort by midfielder Alberto Bueno.
Valladolid went ahead in the 72nd by Amat heading a free kick into his own net while trying to clear the ball. Less than a minute later, however, Amat equalized with a long-range lob over goalkeeper Dani Hernandez.
Bueno set up Valladolid’s 80th-minute winner when he stole the ball, dribbled forward to draw in both the goalkeeper and the last defender, before sliding the ball for Manucho to finish off the counterattack.
Valladolid broke a four-game winless run and moved into 11th place. Rayo fell into eighth after losing for the first time in five home matches.
Celta was led by striker Iago Aspas en route to the much-needed win at home over Granada.
Former coach Paco Herrera, who was fired earlier this week and replaced by Resino, was highly critical of the young striker’s attitude over the past two months. Aspas responded by scoring his first goal in seven weeks- his ninth of the season- before assisting Mario Bermejo for the winning goal nine minutes from time.
Celta’s first victory in seven rounds lifted it to within two points of safety.