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Atletico move forward, Barca stage comeback

BARCELONA, Spain -- Atletico Madrid moved one step closer to its first Spanish league title in 18 years on Sunday with a 1-0 victory at Valencia, while Lionel Messi completed an emotional 3-2 comeback win for Barcelona at Villarreal two days after the death of former coach Tito Vilanova.

Atletico midfielder Raul Garcia scored with an impressive header in the 43rd minute, and its defense did the rest as it gave Valencia no chance to rally at its Mestalla Stadium.

Diego Simeone's side moved six points clear of Real Madrid, which has a game in hand, while Barcelona remained within four points after coming from two goals down to beat Villarreal in its first game since the death of Vilanova.

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets wept as the two teams gathered at the center circle before kickoff at El Madrigal Stadium to observe a minutes of silence for Vilanova, who died on Friday after a battle with cancer, having led Barcelona to the league title last season. Vilanova was honored similarly across Spain's first division this weekend.

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said his team had been “very affected” by Vilanova's death, who was honored this weekend by more than 50,000 people who attended a memorial site at Camp Nou.

“It has touched all of us,” Iniesta said. “I will take with me the example he set for us, both when he was with us and after.”

Ruben “Cani” Gracia and Manuel Trigueros scored from counterattacks for Villarreal to go 2-0 up by the 55th minute.

But Villarreal then self-destructed with own goals by Gabriel Armando in the 65th and Mateo Musacchio in the 78th, both redirecting passes by Dani Alves into their team's net.

Messi finally beat goalie Sergio Asenjo after Busquets and Cesc Fabregas combined to set the forward up to net his 27th league goal of the campaign and reach the 40-goal mark in all competitions for the fifth straight season.

Earlier, Garcia's ninth goal of the league season kept Atletico on course for its first league title since 1996.

With a better head-to-head record against Madrid, Atletico can clinch the domestic crown by winning two of its remaining three games. It first plays at Levante, then hosts Malaga, and finally travels to Barcelona.

“We have two very powerful teams behind us that will surely win all their games and we can't relax for even one day,” Simeone said. “I ask my team to go forward with the same sense of calm knowing the importance of each result.”

Atletico can now focus on the Champions League semifinals as it travels to Chelsea on Wednesday after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

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