- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - France forward Antoine Griezmann netted a second-half hat trick to help Atletico Madrid roar back for a 4-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, as Diego Simeone’s side pulled within four points of the lead in the Spanish league.

Bilbao bossed the first 45 minutes at its New San Mames Stadium, not allowing Atletico a shot on goal while Mikel Rico headed in a free kick for the 17th-minute lead.

But Atletico emerged the more aggressive side from halftime, and Griezmann headed in Juanfran Torres’ cross to finish off a sublime team move started from kickoff after the restart.

“Griezmann played a fabulous second half,” said Simeone. “He was the player we went after (to sign this summer).”

Raul Garcia put the titleholders ahead in the 53rd from the penalty spot after the referee ruled Mikel San Jose had tripped Tiago Cardoso in the area.

Griezmann, starting for suspended striker Mario Mandzukic, then struck a decisive double blow with breakaway goals in the 73rd and 81st.

“We played a bad first half, but Simeone motivated us with his words and everything went better in the second half,” said Griezmann, who doubled his season goal tally in the league.

Pacesetter Real Madrid, with a game to play, leads Barcelona by one point and Atletico by four.

Bilbao finished 2014 in 11th place, two spots behind promoted Basque neighbor Eibar.

Villarreal and Malaga also won to end the year on winning streaks.

Villarreal striker Luciano Vietto scored two goals to secure a comfortable 3-0 win over visiting Deportivo La Coruna, while Malaga had to rally 2-1 at Elche.

Villarreal eased to a fifth straight victory over a Deportivo side that remained one point above the relegation zone.

A strike by Denis Cheryshev led to Jonathan Dos Santos finishing off the rebound, giving the hosts the lead in the 10th.

Villarreal made it 2-0 when Vietto tapped in a low cross from Victor Ruiz in the 68th. The Argentine struck again from a similar pass by Cheryshev five minutes later.

Villarreal played the last 10 minutes down a man after substitute Tomas Pina received a direct red for a tackle.

“We wanted to finish off a good year with a win,” said Vietto. “It’s difficult to concentrate on the last game when you are thinking about the holidays with your family, but we played well.”

Malaga recorded its eighth win in the last 10 rounds to keep Elche in last place.

David Lomban headed Elche in front in first-half injury time, only for Ignacio Camacho to level in the 49th. Luis Alberto then came on as a substitute in the 76th and a minute later dribbled by two defenders before drilling the ball home.

Elsewhere, Getafe salvaged a 1-1 draw at Granada to ensure the Andalusian side remained winless in 12 consecutive rounds.

Getafe defender Emiliano Velazquez fired in a free kick lobbed forward by Pedro Leon in the 78th to cancel out Jhon Cordoba’s 41st-minute opener and split the points.

The Spanish league takes a winter break and resumes on Jan. 3.

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