Villarreal beat Bilbao to stay in hunt for Champions League

BARCELONA: Villarreal stayed in the hunt for a top-four finish and a Champions League berth after beating visiting Athletic Bilbao 3-1 on Friday, despite finishing the match with 10 men.

Villarreal moved to within four points of Sevilla, which is struggling after five league games without a win, and four points clear of sixth-place Bilbao.

Defender Victor Ruiz helped Villarreal establish its lead by scoring an early goal and setting up substitute Adrian Lopez for another. But he also earned a direct red card for a harsh tackle on Inaki Williams with 15 minutes to go.

Ruiz started the match in the best form possible by finishing off a rebound of a strike by Samuel Castillejo in the 17th.

French defender Aymeric Laporte leveled for Bilbao three minutes later, but the hosts restored their lead just after halftime through striker Cedric Bakambu.

Ruiz then set up the third goal by heading a free kick across the goalmouth for Lopez to nod over the line in the 57th.

Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz twice hit the crossbar as the visitors pressured Villarreal late on.

On Saturday, league leader Real Madrid hosts third-place Atletico Madrid in an eagerly awaited derby. Second-place Barcelona, meanwhile, visits Malaga trailing Madrid by two points having played one game more.