BARCELONA (Reuters) - Sevilla reminded Barcelona and Real Madrid the title race is not a two-horse contest by producing a breathtaking first-half attacking show to crush local rivals Malaga 4-1 and go second in La Liga on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Saul Niguez’s second-half strike gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win at home to Las Palmas, their first victory in four games in all competitions.
Luciano Vietto latched on to a through ball from Steven Nzonzi to fire Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla in front in the 25th minute and the Argentine forward grabbed another three minutes later, tapping home Vitolo’s cut-back from close range.
Wissam Ben Yedder coolly finished a sweeping counter-attack for the third goal in the 34th minute and seconds later Vitolo stabbed in a pass from Vietto to make it 4-0.
The home side had centre back Adil Rami sent off in the 61st minute for two quickfire bookings, the first for a foul on Juankar and the second for protesting too much.
Former Barcelona striker Sandro Ramirez pulled one back for Malaga from a free kick, his third goal from a set piece this season, but Sevilla were already out of sight.
“We wanted to give the fans a great send-off before the holidays and I‘m really happy we did that. It was our best first-half performance of the season,” said forward Vitolo.
“We had to really go for them and score as many as possible before the second half. We suffered a bit with a man down but we had done enough by then.”
Sevilla are second on 33 points, two clear of third-placed Barcelona who host Espanyol on Sunday hoping to reduce their six-point deficit on Real Madrid while Zinedine Zidane’s side are taking on Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup final.
In Madrid, Saul lashed a loose ball into the top corner from outside the box in the 59th minute to bring welcome relief to Atletico after a week in which they all but dropped out of the title race and lost goalkeeper Jan Oblak to injury.
It was sixth-placed Atletico’s first goal in four games.
Saul had come close to giving his team the lead in the first half but saw a driven shot clatter against the post.
At the other end Las Palmas defender Mauricio Lemos let fly from distance and struck the crossbar.
Kevin Gameiro wasted a clear chance before the break as he tried in vain to set up Atletico strike partner Antoine Griezmann.
“It’s been a fantastic year, we got to the Champions League final, we fought for the league title until the end and we’ve qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League,” said coach Diego Simeone.
“We’ve been competing at the highest level for five years. That’s so difficult to do. We might have been inconsistent in the league this year but Atletico fans should feel proud of their team.”
Simeone’s side have 28 points, one behind Real Sociedad who beat Granada 2-0 with second-half goals from Jon Bautista and Juanmi.
Villarreal are fourth on 29 points after ending a three-month spell without an away win in all competitions by coasting to a 3-1 victory at Sporting Gijon.
The visitors went ahead in the 12th minute through Jonathan Dos Santos’ thumping drive and Nicola Sansone doubled the advantage in the 20th by stabbing in Alexandre Pato’s goalbound shot from close range.
Sansone returned the favour for Pato in the second half by laying on a pass for the Brazilian to round off Villarreal’s first win on the road since they beat Malaga on Sept. 10.
Gijon got a late consolation goal through Carlos Carmona.
Editing by Tony Jimenez