Cristiano Ronaldo scored the opening goal and set up the third as Real Madrid bounced back from their derby defeat to Atletico with a 3-1 La Liga victory away at bottom club Levante.
Ronaldo, who had been critical of his team-mates after the 1-0 loss to their city rivals on Saturday, only to later insist his comments had been “misinterpreted”, converted a 34th-minute penalty to break the deadlock at Estadio Ciudad de Valencia.
An unfortunate own goal by Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino doubled Madrid’s lead four minutes later, only for the hosts to almost immediately pull one back through Brazilian forward Deyverson.
However, Madrid’s ninth successive win over Levante was wrapped up in injury time when Ronaldo’s cut-back from the right byline set up substitute Isco.
The result sees Zinedine Zidane’s side close the gap to second-placed Atletico back to four points, and they now sit four clear of nearest rivals Villarreal, who drew 0-0 at Celta Vigo.
Madrid’s derby defeat proved to be painful for more than just the result – Luka Modric and Karim Benzema, who was withdrawn at half-time on Saturday, picked up injuries in the derby, while both Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos received bookings that triggered suspensions.
As a consequence, Zidane picked a side showing five changes and they took their time to get going in Valencia.
They would have fallen behind in the fifth minute had former Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas not reacted superbly to keep out Giuseppe Rossi’s snap shot.
However, Levante gifted their opponents the chance to break the deadlock, Lucas Orban’s obvious trip on Lucas Vazquez inside the area allowing Ronaldo to score his 23rd league goal of the season from the spot.
Luck deserted Marino for the visitors’ second, the goalkeeper inadvertently deflecting the ball into his own net after a shot from Borja Mayoral – who was handed his first start in La Liga – had struck the post.
Still, Levante’s response to going 2-0 down was impressive.
They halved the deficit inside a minute, with Rossi’s superb reverse pass presenting the chance for Deyverson to slot a left-footed shot beyond Navas.
Marino kept Levante alive with an acrobatic save to deny a long-range attempt from Nacho early in the second half, while the woodwork came to his aid to keep out Ronaldo’s steered volley from James Rodriguez’s inch-perfect pass over the top.
Deyverson’s flick narrowly wide of the target on the hour mark showed Madrid could not take the result for granted, but Isco’s first-time effort at the death from Ronaldo’s assist made sure of a much-needed result for Zidane’s men.
Key Opta stats:
– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in his 13 appearances against Levante in all competitions.
– Ronaldo has delivered 12 assists this season, as many as Lionel Messi (all competitions).
– Isco has scored four goals against Levante in La Liga, his favourite opponent in the competition.
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