Football: Valencia move top with early blitz of La Liga champs Atletico

MADRID (AFP) - Valencia moved top of La Liga with three goals in the opening 13 minutes to beat champions Atletico Madrid 3-1 at the Mestalla on Saturday.

Atletico paid for their efforts in beating Italian champions Juventus in midweek, as Miranda gifted the hosts the opener with a comical own goal before Andres Gomes and Nicolas Otamendi rounded off a dream start for Los Che.

Mario Mandzukic reduced the arrears on the half-hour mark, but any hopes of an Atletico comeback were halted when Diego Alves saved Guillherme Siqueira's tame penalty just before half-time, and they ended the match with 10 men as substitute Alessio Cerci was sent-off in stoppage time.

Valencia move three points ahead of third-placed Atletico and a point clear of Barcelona, but the Catalans can reclaim top spot should they avoid defeat at Rayo Vallecano later on Saturday.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone hade made four changes from the side that had started against Juventus, but it was his trusted central defensive pairing of Miranda and Diego Godin that were unusually caught out by Valencia's fast start.

Miranda inexplicably tried to intercept Shkodran Mustafi's cross, which was sailing easily into the arms of Atletico 'keeper Miguel Angel Moya and only succeeded in turning the ball into his own net after just six minutes.

A minute later things got even worse for Miranda, as Gomes turned the Brazilian as he rampaged through the heart of the Atletico defence before smashing the ball low past the helpless Moya.

Atletico were even struggling at their normal forte of set-pieces, as Otamendi then rose unchallenged to power home the third from Pablo Piatti's corner.

The visitors showed some heart to end the half the stronger and were back in the game when Alves could only parry Tiago's powerful effort and Mandzukic was on hand to nod home his fourth goal of the season.

And Simeone's men could even have got back to 3-2 before the break, as Jose Gaya was harshly penalised for a handball inside his own area, but Alves continued his fine penalty-saving record with a comfortable stop from Siqueira's weak effort.

That save punctured Atletico's momentum and Valencia were able to keep Los Rojiblancos at bay in a far less eventful second-half.

Indeed the best chance fell to Valencia, as Spanish international Paco Alcacer fired just over at the near post as he latched onto Gaya's low cross.

Atletico's bad day was rounded off in injury time as Cerci had a goal ruled out and was shown a second yellow card for deliberate hand-ball meaning he will miss Espanyol's visit to the Vicente Calderon in two weeks' time.

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