MADRID, Oct 24, 2011 (AFP) - Unheralded Levante took outright possession of La Liga leadership for the first time in their 102-year history on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Villarreal.
Levante, who just avoided relegation last season, are in the unlikely position of looking down on Real Madrid and Barcelona with 20 points thanks to a six-match winning streak which began with a win over Real.
Bubbling with confidence, they went ahead through Juanlu Gomez after 16 minutes against Villarreal, who looked weary after their mid-week clash at Manchester City in the Champions League.
The pace of the Levante forward line was causing plenty of problems and Juanlu got his second before the break.
Arouna Kone then blasted home shortly before the hour mark to ensure the three points for Levante who survive on a modest 12 million-euro budget.
"We are going through a special moment. I am happy but I have my feet on the ground. More than anything it is good to see the people of Levante so happy because they deserve it," said Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez.
"While it is great to be the leader for a team like Levante, we know that this match was just a further step forward and that we need to keep working.
"I don't think that we were so much better than Villarreal, we were lucky with the first goal and from there it was easy for us."
Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido did not look for any excuses and admitted his team were well beaten.
"This was a tough and resounding defeat but the team must now respond and overcome this," he said.
A last-minute Roberto Soldado goal earned Valencia a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao, but the result will not ease fans' discontent as the team have now won just once in seven games.
Despite lying in fifth place and just five points off the top, Valencia have had a poor run recently with just one victory against Granada while they will need to win their remaining Champions League matches to progress to the next round.
Valencia started well with Mehmet Topal hitting the post in the opening minutes but Bilbao, looking for their third consecutive win, were always dangerous on the counter-attack.
Jonas Goncalves hit the post again for Valencia before half-time but it was the visitors that went ahead with an excellent shot from distance by Iker Muniain after 72 minutes.
Valencia pushed forward looking for the equaliser and Soldado saved their blushes with a minute to go with his sixth league goal of the season.
A Radamel Falcao penalty gave Atletico Madrid their first goal in four games but their disappointing run continued as they could only draw 1-1 with Mallorca.
Atletico boosted their attack with the high-profile signings of Falcao and Diego in the summer as they looked to push for a place in the Champions League.
But the investments are yet to pay off and the team have drawn a blank in five games so far with the team down in ninth place.
They got off to the worst possible start with Silvio conceding a penalty inside the first minute for a handball and Tomer Hemed scored from the spot kick.
Atletico fought back and Falcao, who himself was upended by Ivan Ramis, levelled with a 43rd-minute penalty.
On Saturday, Lionel Messi missed a late penalty as Barcelona could only draw 0-0 with nine-man Sevilla.
The Spanish and European champions went into the game looking for a club record sixth clean sheet in all competitions, which they achieved, but they failed at the other end.
They were frustrated by a dogged Sevilla defence and some heroic goalkeeping from Javi Varas, who left his best until last when he denied Messi from the penalty spot in injury time.
In a stormy finish, both Frederic Kanoute and Fernando Navarro were dismissed for the visitors.
Barcelona are third on 18 points while Real Madrid are second on 19 points after a 4-0 win over Malaga with Cristiano Ronaldo hitting a 15-minute hat-trick.
It was a battle between the newly rich Malaga, who invested heavily in the summer as they aim for a place in Europe, and the old order, but it turned into a mismatch as Real cruised to victory.
Gonzalo Higuain, who has scored two hat-tricks in his last two games for Real, as well as another in between for Argentina, sent the visitors on their way after 10 minutes before Ronaldo stole the show with three goals in 15 minutes.
He side-footed home an Angel di Maria cross and then fired in from the edge of the area before completing his hat-trick with an acrobatic flick from close range.