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LaLiga: Athletic Bilbao tops Sociedad to move up to 3rd; Villarreal loses again | Football News

Athletic Bilbao forward Álex Berenguer scored twice in a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad which lifted the hosts into third place in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Athletic Bilbao players celebrate their win at the end of the Spanish league football match between Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Sociedad (AFP)

With its victory in the Basque Country derby, Athletic edged ahead of both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. The team is on course to fight for a Champions League berth with Spain to send four, or possibly five, teams to Europe’s elite competition next season.

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Berenguer made the most of starting for the hosts in place of Athletic star Iñaki Williams, who is playing with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. The forward scored from close range in the 32nd and 40th minutes after team moves that included passes by Iñaki’s younger brother, Nico Williams.

Ernesto Valverde’s team is undefeated in 13 games across both the league and the Copa del Rey and has won its last four league matches.

“Why can’t we dream of qualifying for the Champions League?” Athletic midfielder Oihan Sancet said. “We have shown that whoever plays, we remain a competitive team. I think we missed Iñaki, but Álex always plays well when he gets the chance.”

Sociedad, which only responded late through an 88th-minute goal by Mikel Oyarzabal, remained in sixth place but trails its Basque rival by nine points.

Sociedad was also without players for international commitments. Japan forward Takefusa Kubo was at the Asian Cup in Qatar, and Mali defender Hamari Traoré and Nigeria striker Umar Sadiq were at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.

Athletic is seven points behind leaders Real Madrid and Girona at the top of the table. Girona visits Almeria on Sunday. Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico and Osasuna all have their games postponed from this round because of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

VILLARREAL LOSES

Villarreal slumped to a 3-0 loss at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, a fourth loss in five league matches that left it in 15th place.

The defeat came after Villarreal was eliminated on penalties by third-division club Unionistas this week in the Copa del Rey.

“I am not scared because I don’t think my team is brittle,” said coach Marcelino García Toral, who started his second stint with Villarreal in November. “With a positive attitude we can turn this around.”

Midfielder Kirian Rodríguez scored twice to help Las Palmas rise to eighth place and continue to exceed expectations after earning promotion last summer.

Also, Canada forward Cyle Larin scored Mallorca’s first-half equalizer to cancel out an opener by Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas in a 1-1 draw.

A second-half goal by Isco Alarcón in the late game gave Real Betis a 1-0 victory over Granada to move into seventh place.

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