MADRID (AP) " Atletico Madrid defeated Malaga 2-0 to secure its fourth consecutive win and regain third place in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion scored in the first half and Filipe Luis sealed the victory in the second to move Atletico one point ahead of Sevilla, which hosts relegation-wary Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Diego Simeone's team had been outside of the top three since the 10th round, and dropped as low as sixth after briefly leading the league.
Third place is important because it guarantees an automatic spot for the Champions League next season. The fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.
"Each match is crucial now," Luis said.
Malaga controlled possession from the start at its La Rosaleda Stadium but it was Atletico which capitalized on its chances, with Koke and Luis scoring from inside the area.
"It was a dangerous match but we didn't make any mistakes," Simeone said. "Despite the result, it wasn't an easy victory."
It was the sixth consecutive winless game for Malaga, which dropped to 16th.
Leader Real Madrid and second-placed Barcelona play on Sunday. Madrid has a two-point lead and a game in hand.
Earlier, away victories by Eibar and Athletic Bilbao intensified the fight for the Europa League spots. Eibar ended a four-match winless streak by defeating Villarreal 3-2, while Athletic won 2-1 at last-placed Osasuna.
Athletic is two points behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad, and Eibar is five points back.
Fifth place is the first to reward teams a place in the Europa League. The sixth-placed team will also play in the European competition, and the seven-placed side may earn a spot if Barcelona defeats Alaves in the Copa del Rey final in May.
Real Sociedad has 49 points, one more than sixth-place Villarreal. Athletic moved to 47, and Eibar to 44. Espanyol reached 43 after a late come-from-behind win over Real Betis on Friday.
VILLARREAL 2, EIBAR 3
Takashi Inui scored his first goal of the season in the 77th minute to seal Eibar's come-from-behind win at Villarreal.
Roberto Soriano put the host ahead early, then Eibar rallied with goals by Pedro Leon in the 48th and Enrique "Kike" Garcia in the 54th. Soriano closed the scoring in the 89th.
Villarreal loudly complained of the penalty call that led to Eibar's opener, as well as of a non-call for a hand ball the other way just a few minutes later.
"The controversial calls distracted us," Villarreal coach Fran Escriba said. "The referee's decisions influenced the flow of the match. We lost concentration."
OSASUNA 1, ATHLETIC BILBAO 2
Osasuna's winless streak in the league reached 21 games after the setback against Athletic.
The promoted club hasn't won since a game at Eibar in the eighth round.
Aritz Aduriz put Athletic ahead early with his 100th league goal for the Basque club, and Inaki Williams added to the lead on halftime.
Osasuna's lone goal was scored by Sergio Leon late.
REAL SOCIEDAD 1, LEGANES 1
Real Sociedad's struggles at home continued as it couldn't manage more than a draw against relegation-wary Leganes.
Alexander Szymanowski put the hosts ahead in the first half and Juan "Juanmi" Jimenez equalized in the second.
Sociedad hasn't won at its Anoeta Stadium in four matches. It is winless in its last three games overall.
Leganes, 17th in the standings, also hasn't won in three straight matches.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings