Liga - Super Soldado puts Malaga to the sword
Roberto Soldado scored a goal in each half to give Valencia a 2-0 win over Malaga at the Mestalla.
Soldado is the top-scoring Spanish player in Europe’s top five leagues this season with 11, and again pressed his case for a leading role in Spain's Euro 2012 squad with a couple of fine finishes that proved the difference between the sides in an open contest.
Malaga enjoyed the better moments in the first half but were undone when Soldado darted onto Jonas' delightful pass before rounding Malaga goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero to net with a finish of supreme quality on 36 minutes.
He ended Malaga's hopes of taking something from the game when he read Jordi Alba's cross perfectly on 61 minutes before slamming a stunning volley beyond the helpless Caballero from eight yards out.
Unai Emery's side go into the winter break in Spain third in Spain, only four points adrift of second-placed Barcelona with Real Madrid three points further on in top spot.
The last five league meetings between these sides have ended in wins for Emery’s side, making this Málaga joint-poorest-ever run against one side in Spain (except Madrid and Barca).
They had their chances throughout the evening, but paid the price for lacking the killer instinct that Soldado - who has now netted 16 times in all competitions - brings to this Valencia team.
Home goalkeeper Diego Alves was always busy without having to make any spectacular stops.
He fisted away a cross by Joaquin on 27 minutes, and halted efforts from Isco and substitute Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the second period as the game raged from end to end, but Valencia never looked in danger of squandering their lead.
Soldado should have netted his hat-trick on 79 minutes, but lifted the ball wide of the target with only Caballero to beat.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have only won one of their last seven league away games. They did not play badly, but there is room for improvement with Rondon in particular proving to be a real disappointment up front.
If Spain's all-time top scorer is not fit for Euro 2012, coach Vicente Del Bosque may turn to Soldado to fill the gap and the Valencia fans were chanting 'Soldado for the national team!' on Sunday.
"It's nice that the fans sing that and it makes me happy as it means I am scoring and the team is playing well," Soldado told Spanish television.
Ambitious Qatar-owned Malaga, one of the biggest spenders in the transfer market in the close season, dropped to seventh, level on 24 points with Sevilla, who were thrashed 6-2 by Real on Saturday, but behind the Andalusians on goal difference.
Surprise packages Osasuna, who have won four of their last five matches, climbed to fifth on 25 points thanks to Sunday's 2-1 win against Villarreal in Pamplona.
Atletico's impatient fans have been voicing their frustration with Manzano and the club's board and Sunday's 2-0 reverse at home to Real Betis left Madrid's second club in 10th and their coach, known as 'the professor', in serious peril Manzano, in his second stint in charge at Atletico, said he had not considered stepping down.
"If I had seen that the team did not have strength, if I had seen that the team did not have soul, commitment and intensity we would all be more concerned," he told a news conference.
"You have to look at the attitude of the players and the effort they put in," he added. "Today's result was not a just one."
In Sunday's other game, Racing Santander drew 0-0 at home to fellow strugglers Real Sociedad.