Alex Berenguer’s brace fired Athletic Bilbao to third in La Liga after a 2-1 Basque derby triumph over Real Sociedad on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Spanish forward, filling the gap left by talisman Inaki Williams’s departure for the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana, made a decisive impact as Athletic moved ahead of Spanish champions Barcelona on goal difference.
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The Catalans, fourth, are in Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday against league leaders Real Madrid.
Real Sociedad pulled a goal back late on through Mikel Oyarzabal but could not find a leveller at the vibrant San Mames.
“We had a game where we competed 100 percent, the important thing is we won it for three more points,” said Berenguer.
“This season I’m not playing so much, I have to take advantage of the chances I get, like today.”
Athletic took the lead in the 30th minute when Yuri Berchiche zipped in down the left and pulled the ball across the face of goal for Berenguer to gleefully convert.
Berenguer netted his second before half-time when the ball deflected into his path in the box and he tucked it into the bottom corner for his fourth league goal of the season.
Real Sociedad barely troubled Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon in the first half and the hosts shut them down again after the break.
Eventually Oyarzabal improvised a chested finish at the death to pull La Real back into the game and make Athletic sweat through six minutes of stoppage time.
Ernesto Valverde’s side are seven points behind leaders Real Madrid and Girona, second, who visit winless Almeria on Sunday aiming to become solo leaders.
Real Sociedad, sixth, are now nine points away from the top four.
“We didn’t get stuck into the battles with the right aggression,” Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino told DAZN.
“It was a tough defeat here today, we knew the points were important, but not decisive, there’s a long way to go in La Liga.”
Earlier Kirian Rodriguez struck twice for Las Palmas as they continued their impressive campaign with a convincing 3-0 win over struggling Villarreal.
Francisco Garcia Pimienta’s promoted side rose to seventh provisionally with a comfortable home triumph in Gran Canaria, giving them belief they can compete for European football.
Villarreal, dumped out of the Copa del Rey on Monday by third-tier Salamanca, languish in 14th, four points above the relegation zone.
Kirian struck early on and Juanma Herzog doubled the islanders’ lead early in the second half when he headed in a corner.
Las Palmas wrapped up the win when Kirian netted his second after the hour, helping his team recover from their own Spanish cup knock-out against local rivals Tenerife and snapping a four-game winless run.
Villarreal have only won once in their last six league games and have not found form under coach Marcelino, appointed in November.