MADRID: A Real Madrid side in ruthless attacking form crushed 10-man Valencia 4-1 at the Bernabeu on Sunday to claim their fifth successive Spanish league win and close to within three points of leaders Real Sociedad.
Ronaldo got the opening goal on 36 minutes with a trademark run and shot before defending champions Valencia grabbed an equaliser nine minutes into the second half with a Roberto Ayala header.
A draw looked the likeliest result as the teams struggled on a heavy pitch but the sending-off of Pablo Aimar on 64 minutes handed Real the initiative and the home side went ahead again with a Zinedine Zidane strike four minutes later.
With five minutes to go, and Valencia pressing for a second equaliser, Guti made certain of victory with a leisurely turn and shot and substitute Javier Portillo rounded off the scoring in injury-time after more excellent work from Zidane.
Victory for Real saw them take full advantage of a slip from Real Sociedad, who could manage no better than a 2-2 draw at home to Malaga despite twice taking the lead and dominating against a side reduced to 10 men on 84 minutes.
“A draw was a fair reflection of what happened on the field,” said Real Sociedad coach Raynald Denoueix.
“We tried everything but Malaga defended better than any other side we've played here this season.”
The result extended Real Sociedad's unbeaten record into 2003 – they are the only side in the top flight yet to lose a game – and gave them 36 points from 16 games.
Real Madrid stay second on 33 points, with Deportivo Coruna's 3-0 derby win over Celta Vigo on Saturday taking them up to third on 29. Valencia drop to fourth on 28 points.
Further down the table, Barcelona's improvement continued as they moved up to eighth place, still 14 points off the championship pace, with a second successive league win, 3-0 at home to the first division's bottom club Recreativo Huelva.
Fabio Rochemback put Barca ahead on nine minutes with a right-foot blast from the edge of the area, a Loren own goal made it 2-0 and the sending-off of Paraguayan fullback Nelson Zelaya on 51 minutes settled matters.
Xavi fired the penalty against a post but Philip Cocu wrapped up the win 10 minutes from time after playing a neat one-two with Thiago Motta.
“I'm delighted because we scored goals and created a lot of chances,” said Barca boss Louis van Gaal. “It was a vital win for us and we now have to look ahead with confidence.”
While Barcelona still have a lot of work to do if they are to get back into the title race, Real Madrid demonstrated that an indifferent run of form earlier in the season is now firmly behind them.
Roberto Carlos forced a desperate save from Palop early on with a dazzling run and powerful shot and the Brazilian continued to wreak havoc in the Valencia defence.
Raul went close with a flick header from Zidane's cross just past the half-hour mark before Ronaldo opened the scoring, racing on to the Frenchman's through ball, beating Palop and tucking into an empty net.
The Brazilian striker raced over to embrace Real coach Vicente del Bosque, who was taking charge of the side despite the death of his mother on Saturday morning.
Valencia equalised when Ayala was left unmarked to head in early in the second half but all the good work from the visitors was undone 10 minutes later when Aimar received his second booking.
Zidane was quick to take advantage, exchanging passes with Raul before cracking in from just outside the area.
Valencia pushed forward valiantly but with Zidane now running the game further goals looked inevitable and Guti and Portillo duly obliged. – Reuters