Madrid: Atletico Madrid picked up its first home league defeat of the season after going down 2-0 to 10-man Real Betis on Sunday to increase the pressure on coach Gregorio Manzano.
Alex Pozuelo scored in the 54th minute and substitute Roque Santa Cruz added a second in stoppage time to give Betis a second straight victory and boost its own beleaguered coach, Pepe Mel. Pozuelo was sent off in the 72nd.
"We've played worse (on Sunday) than other days and won 2-0. But I've got enough (problems) at Betis without worrying about Atletico," said Mel, whose team has just recovered from a 10-game winless slump in the league.
Atletico is without an away win in seven Spanish league matches but its strong home form had given Manzano some protection.
"If I'd seen the team lacked strength, if I'd seen the team had no soul, commitment, intensity, then we'd all be more worried ... but we have," Manzano said. "You have to value the players' attitude, the effort made. The result wasn't fair today."
This latest defeat leaves the Atletico coach in an increasingly precarious position. Atletico has a Copa del Rey fixture against third-tier Albacete on Wednesday, aiming to overturn a shock 2-1 defeat in the away leg.
With the Christmas break approaching, anything but a win against Albacete looks likely to end Manzano's time at the club he took over for a second time in June.
At one point against Betis, home fans in the Vicente Calderon stadium chanted the name of Luis Aragones, the former European Championship-winning Spain coach, who is seen as a potential successor.
"It's a culture that we should control because it doesn't help the team," Manzano said. "Today (there were chants) because the team was losing, but there have been protests at other times even when we've been winning."
Also Sunday, third-place Valencia emerged from a dip in form to beat European hopeful Malaga 2-0, Granada won 2-1 against Levante, Real Sociedad and Racing Santander drew 0-0 and Osasuna rallied to win 2-1 against Villarreal.
Atletico started brightly against Betis, with striker Radamel Falcao spurning two early opportunities — first glancing a third-minute header wide when he should have scored, then hooking a volley round the post in the sixth.
Atletico winger Arda Turan saw his back-post volley pushed away by Betis goalkeeper Casto Barriga in the 44th, but the visitors improved in the second half.
Pozuelo controlled a pass from Ruben Castro before advancing past Alvaro Dominguez and firing into the roof of the net to open the scoring.
Pozuelo got a second yellow card for handling the ball in the 72nd, but Atletico failed to find an equalizer despite heavy pressure.
Barriga produced a flying one-handed save to keep Adrian's header out of the net in the 75th and Santa Cruz scored Betis' second after following up his own shot that hit the crossbar in the 91st.
Valencia had struggled during December, exiting the Champions League group stage, losing in stoppage time in the league to Betis and only managing a scoreless draw at third-tier Cadiz in the Copa del Rey.
But Roberto Soldado scored in the 36th and 61st minutes to despatch Malaga and keep Valencia within sight of the top two, four behind Barcelona and seven back from Real Madrid.
"After three bad results, this victory is important," Valencia coach Unai Emery said. "We had the ball more than them and added assists and finishing to that."
Granada secured a 2-1 home win against fourth-place Levante with a penalty from Guilherme Siqueira in the 35th and a second goal from Abel Gomez just before half time.
Arouna Kone pulled a goal back for Levante on the hour mark, but Granada held on to claim its fifth league victory of the season and move into mid-table.
Osasuna came from behind to prolong Villarreal's miserable season with a 2-1 win, moving to fifth spot.
Villarreal's seventh league defeat left the club hovering just above the relegation zone and pushed coach Juan Carlos Garrido's name higher up the list of endangered coaches.
Real Sociedad hung on for a 0-0 draw at Racing Santander despite losing Inigo Martinez to a red card in the 54th minute.
On Saturday, a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to a 6-2 romp at Seville to lead Barcelona by three points atop the standings.
After Sunday's fixtures, the Spanish league takes a three-week break.