Villarreal inch closer to Champions League spot

Madrid: Gerard Moreno scored a pair of first-half goals as Villarreal defeated 10-man Real Betis 2-0 on Wednesday to move closer to a Champions League spot in the Spanish league. It was Villarreal’s fifth win in six matches after the pandemic break, moving them three points being fourth-place Sevilla with five rounds remaining. They are two points ahead of sixth-place Getafe, who visit leader Real Madrid on Thursday.

It is the first time this season Villarreal have been as high as fifth in the league standings.

A 2-2 draw against Sevilla at home was Villarreal’s only setback after the league resumed last month.

Moreno converted a seventh-minute penalty kick and added to the lead from inside the area in the 30th to become the league’s top-scoring Spaniard with 15 goals. Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema has 17 goals and Barcelona’s Argentine playmaker Lionel Messi has 22.

Betis played a man down the entire second half at its Benito Villamarín Stadium as Nabil Fekir was sent off after being shown yellow cards a few minutes apart in first-half stoppage time.

Betis, whose only win after the break came against last-place Espanyol, stayed in 13th place.

Meanwhile, Valencia lost 2-0 to Athletic Bilbao at home for their third straight defeat, dropping to 10th place and moving further away from the qualification spots for the European competitions.

It was the team’s first match since coach Albert Celades was fired on Monday. The team’s only win since the league resumed came against midtable Osasuna.

Raúl García scored a goal in each half for Athletic, which moved to seventh place with its second consecutive win.