Atletico Madrid climbed to third in LaLiga with a workmanlike 2-0 win over lowly Malaga at La Rosaleda on Saturday.
Diego Simeone's side made it four top-flight wins in a row as long-serving midfielder Koke netted in the first half and Filipe Luis added late gloss with a cool finish as Atletico moved a point clear of Sevilla.
Malaga, who face a crunch clash with Sporting Gijon on Wednesday, have not tasted victory since Michel took charge last month, with their winless run overall now stretching to six games.
And yet the hosts had shown promise in the opening exchanges, at least in their build-up play, which was neat and tidy without being threatening.
Still they fell behind in the 26th minute, Koke racing through to stab past Carlos Kameni after excellent work from Fernando Torres on the edge of the box.
There was an air of caution about Atletico after that and they put up a defensive wall that Malaga could not break down in the second half, with the hosts failing to make their superior possession count before Filipe Luis put the game beyond them.
Michel's men sit six points above Gijon, who occupy the final relegation spot and visit Sevilla on Sunday.
Koke's low strike from 20 yards forced Kameni into the first save after five minutes.
The home side – who snapped a four-game losing streak with a 0-0 draw against Leganes last time out – showed some nice touches, but were found sorely lacking when it came to end product and Sandro's speculative 30-yard effort was never going to trouble Jan Oblak.
And it was Atletico who forged ahead, Torres turning smartly on the edge of the box and – after his way through was blocked by two defenders – Koke pounced to prod home the loose ball.
Despite the setback Malaga remained positive and Keko worked Oblak with a confident back-heel attempt just before the break.
From the start of the second half Atletico adopted a familiar approach of sitting deep and inviting their opponents on, seeking to exploit any opportunities to counter-attack.
With Malaga having only scored more than one goal in a game once this year, it did not make for thrilling viewing.
The reverse fixture in October ended 4-2 to Atletico, but there was no hint of a repeat this time, with the visitors seemingly content to protect their one-goal advantage.
But, after Antoine Griezmann had steered wide from inside the box, Filipe Luis provided a neat chipped finish as Atletico's patience finally paid off 16 minutes from time.
Key Opta stats:
- Atletico Madrid have won their last four LaLiga games, their best run this season.
- Koke has had a hand in five goals in his last six LaLiga games (two goals and three assists).
- Fernando Torres has made two assists in a single LaLiga game for the first time ever.
- Malaga have lost their last three home league games – their worst run at home since October 2010 (5), under Jesualdo Ferreira.
- Only PSG (16) have kept more clean sheets than Atletico (15) in Europe's top five leagues this season.