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Bilbao, Espanyol close on Champions League place


Espanyol beat a ten-man Mallorca on Saturday with a Vladimir Weiss goal to remain fifth in La Liga and move level on points with fourth placed Levante, who play Getafe at home on Sunday.

Also on Saturday, Spain centre-forward Fernando Llorente scored a hat-trick for Athletic Bilbao in a 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano to keep the Basque side in sixth, two points behind Espanyol and Levante.

Slovakian winger Weiss, on loan from Manchester City, grabbed his second goal of the season for Espanyol on 18 minutes after a huge mix up between Dude Aouate in the Mallorca goal and his defender Pablo Caceres.

The unfortunate Aouate then received his marching orders in the first minute of the second-half for what seemed to be a clean tackle on the advancing Espanyol forward Rui Fonte, leaving his team to struggle with ten men for nearly all the second period.

Espanyol went on to control and comfortably win the game and are now six games undefeated in the league.

The win goes some way to make up for their shock exit from the Spanish Cup to third division minnows Mirandes in midweek.

Llorente's hat-trick was enough to overcome a plucky Rayo side for whom Miguel Cuesta 'Michu' and Alejandro Arribas got the goals.

One of the league's revelations this season, Michu opened the scoring on ten minutes for the home team with a volley direct from a corner for his 10th goal of the season.

However, within 13 minutes Bilbao were ahead after two great pieces of play from Llorente.

On 15 minutes the big forward equalised the game converting an Inigo Perez cross with a glancing header.

Eight minutes later he controlled a high ball and twisted in the area before placing an unstoppable shot into the left hand corner for 2-1.

However, Bilbao could only hold on to their lead for four minutes when Arribas was presented with a simple tap-in after Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz fumbled a centre from the right.

The winner came on 67 minutes when Llorente reached to head home a Gaizka Toquero cross from the right.

Bilbao have now lost only once in seven in the league and are still alive in both the Spanish Cup and Europa League.

Later, leaders Real Madrid entertain Zaragoza defending a five-point lead at the top of the table over Barcelona, who also play late on Saturday away to Villarreal.