David Villa closed in on Samuel Eto'o at the top of the goalscoring charts with his 24th and 25th goals of the season as Valencia defeated Real Betis 2-1 to boost their UEFA Champions League hopes.
Spanish international Villa struck the opener on 65 minutes and grabbed a second in the 79th minute as Valencia closed to within two points of third-placed Sevilla and opened up a six-point gap over rivals Villarreal and Atletico Madrid.
Villa may be heading for a big summer move but his loyalty to Valencia remains unquestioned and he has scored 25 out of their 60 league goals this season and is now just one goal behind Barcelona's Eto'o. Valencia and Villa's next challenge is a home match against Barcelona this Saturday when they want to avenge their 4-0 thrashing earlier in the season.
"Villa is a great footballer and he is committed to the Valencia cause," said coach Unai Emery. "It is great for us to close in on Sevilla and now we are focussed on the Barcelona game on Saturday when I expect a carnival atmosphere at the Mestalla."
Cameroon midfielder Achille Emana had a point to prove after being released by Valencia back in 2000 before finding his way back to Spain, joining Betis from Toulouse in the summer of 2008. Emana, 26, had bagged four goals in his last two games and Unai Emery had cited him as the main danger man.
Betis must have known Villa was Valencia's main danger man and the former Sporting Gijon forward provided the breakthrough on 65 minutes, collecting a Juan Mata pass before dispatching home. The UEFA EURO 2008 Golden Boot winner scored again late on and Eto'o is now looking over his shoulder in the Pichichi race.
Ricardo Oliviera pulled a goal back to give Valencia fright but the visitors held on. The pressure is now on Atletico and Villarreal, lying joint sixth six points behind Valencia, with Atletico at Racing Santander on Thursday while Villarreal entertain Recreativo Huelva on the same day.
Promoted Malaga are still in the Champions League hunt after a 3-2 victory over Osasuna, who were reduced to eight men as their frustrations boiled over. Malaga climb to fifth, a point ahead of Atletico and Villarreal with Valencia five points ahead. Deportivo La Coruna are other outsiders for Europe's top competition and lie one point behind Malaga after a 2-0 win over Almeria on Wednesday.
Real keep up pressure
On Tuesday, Real Madrid produced a sensational comeback to down derby rivals Getafe 3-2 and move three points behind Barcelona in the title race. Real fought from 1-0 and 2-1 down with their 10-men winning in the dying seconds after Getafe had missed a penalty to take a 3-2 lead.
If Barca players were watching the match on television they must have been left almost as dejected as Getafe, but their destiny is in their own hands and victory over Sevilla at Camp Nou on Wednesday will restore their six-point advantage. "It is a really tough game. Sevilla are third in the league and always dangerous going forward," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola.
Third-placed Sevilla have lost their last two matches and coach Manolo Jimenez said attack was the best defence against Barca. "There is no room for error against Barcelona because any slip is punished," said Jimenez. "We will not do Barcelona any harm just by trying to stop them we have to use our attacking weapons too."
Sevilla host Real on Sunday as they play a vital role in the title race.