A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid to a 3-2 win over Valencia that ensures they go into the final day of the Liga season as Barcelona’s only challengers for the title.
Ronaldo’s 48th and 49th goals of another prolific season, which sandwiched a Karim Benzema strike, earned Zinedine Zidane’s side an 11th-straight league win to keep them within a point of champions Barca, who hammered Espanyol 5-0.
Victory moves Madrid above neighbours and Champions League final opponents Atletico, who lost 2-1 at already-relegated Levante to drop out of the title race, and means they visit Deportivo La Coruna next weekend knowing that a 12th win on the spin could see them overhaul Luis Enrique’s team in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Madrid were comfortable for much of Sunday’s game at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Valencia indebted to goalkeeper Diego Alves for restricting Ronaldo and co to three goals.
Ronaldo opened the scoring with an excellent finish midway through the first half, before Benzema added a second shortly before the interval.
Valencia reduced the arrears early in the second half through Rodrigo – who was later sent off – but Ronaldo’s 33rd Liga goal of the campaign just before the hour sealed the points, although Madrid did endure a nervy final eight minutes thanks to Andre Gomes’ late goal.
Ronaldo struggled to get involved in the early stages, but he was on hand to break the deadlock in the 26th minute.
Just seconds after forcing Alves into a good save low to his right, Ronaldo collected Marcelo’s pass and shot unerringly back across the keeper from 20 yards.
The out-of-favour James Rodriguez played as if he had a point to prove after being recalled to Zidane’s starting XI, and an excellent free-kick delivery from the Colombian almost provided Madrid with a second soon after Ronaldo’s opener, only for Sergio Ramos to nod wide.
Valencia should have been level when Joao Cancelo tamely side-footed over when it seemed easier to score, and the Portuguese’s misery was compounded when he inadvertently set up Benzema for Madrid’s second three minutes before the break.
Alves initially made a superb save from Benzema’s flicked effort, before the ball rebounded off Cancelo and back to the Frenchman, who swivelled and tucked past Alves at his near post.
Madrid sought to put the game beyond doubt early in the second half but they were frustrated by Alves, who made a brilliant reaction stop from Benzema’s powerful header.
However, Valencia skipper Dani Parejo served a warning when he clipped the crossbar with a free-kick that had Kiko Casilla well beaten, before the visitors pulled a goal back in the 55th minute.
Raphael Varane failed to clear a low cross from the left properly, and Rodrigo side-footed home from 18 yards.
But Madrid restored their two-goal lead just four minutes later and, somewhat inevitably, it was Ronaldo who got it, as he latched onto a slide-rule pass from the impressive James and fired high past Alves with his left foot.
Ronaldo was then withdrawn for Alvaro Arbeloa, making his final Madrid appearance at the Bernabeu, before Gomes pulled one back and Rodrigo saw red for dissent in an eventful ending to an entertaining match.
Key Opta stats:
– Karim Benzema has scored 24 goals in this La Liga season, his best goal tally in a league season.
– Real Madrid won a league game against Valencia at Bernabeu for the first time since December 2010.
– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances against Valencia in La Liga.
– James Rodriguez has been involved in more goals than any other Real Madrid midfielder in La Liga this season (seven goals, eight assists).
– Madrid have 11 wins in a row in La Liga, one off equalling their best run under Carlo Ancelotti (12 games).