Real Madrid finished 2013 on a high note, winning 3-2 at Valencia on Sunday to keep pace with the leaders in La Liga.
Angel Di Maria scored one goal and assisted another, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Jese added one goal each for Real Madrid. Valencia twice pegged back the visitors, first through Pablo Piatti and again in the second half through Jeremy Mathieu.
Jese, a second-half substitute, scored the winner eight minutes from time, though Valencia also had chances to claim victory.
"We have done what we set out to do, which was to keep up with the top of the table," Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said, per RealMadrid.com. "And after the break we have to keep improving."
Ramos added: "This is a tough stadium to come to and Valencia always keep going until the last minute. In the first half we were a little more dominant and had more control of the game, but in the second we created more chances."
Real Madrid started the match eight points behind leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, making victory all but required to maintain their title hopes in 2014. But despite taking the lead twice in the first half, Madrid were pushed to the limit for the full three points.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 at Osasuna last weekend. Pepe, Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale made way for Nacho, Alvaro Arbeloa and Di Maria in the starting lineup.
Ronaldo returned to the side after serving a suspension during Madrid's win over Olimpic de Xativa in the Copa del Rey. Ramos recovered from a back injury that kept him out of the cup tie, but a muscle problem ruled Bale out of the team entirely.
Real Madrid started brightly, Karim Benzema volleying across goal in the ninth minute after being picked out by a long diagonal ball. But no Madrid attackers were on hand for the tap-in.
Three minutes later Marcelo started a quick move, but the final ball, intended for Isco 18 yards out, was just short. Then, in the 18th minute, Ronaldo shot wide from the left side of the box.
The breakthrough came in the 28th minute via Di Maria. Starting on the right, Di Maria beat a couple defenders before firing in at the far corner for a 1-0 Real Madrid lead.
Valencia equalized five minutes with a lethal counter-attack. Juan Bernat crossed from deep on the left, and Piatti headed in from the center of the box.
Di Maria nearly restored Madrid's lead in the 38th minute. Spotting Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita off his line, Di Maria tried a chip from long distance. But Guaita recovered in time and tipped the ball over the bar.
It was only a brief reprieve, though, as Real Madrid went back ahead in the 40th minute.
The ever-dangerous Di Maria played a free kick from the right into the box for Ronaldo, who headed in with ease at the back post. Replays suggested Ronaldo had been marginally offside at the time of Di Maria's kick.
Valencia came close to another quick reply, but Jonas shot wide in the 42nd minute and Madrid took a 2-1 lead into half-time.
After a slow start to the second half, Valencia drew level for a second time via Jeremy Mathieu's header in the 62nd minute. Daniel Parejo provided the assist with a cross from a corner.
The goal put Madrid on the back foot, and Valencia nearly went ahead moments later through Joao Pereira's vicious shot, but Diego Lopez saved. Jonas attempted to pounce on the rebound, but Lopez snuffed out the second chance as well.
The match opened up thereafter, which both teams creating danger in the opponent's end. Jonas dragged a shot wide in the 77th minute, and for a few moments, Valencia looked the likelier side to take the points.
Instead, it was Madrid who found the winner, via substitute Jese in the 82nd minute. Luka Modric found Jese on the right, and Jese found the bottom corner with his shot—though Guaita will have hoped to do better.
With the victory, Real Madrid moved onto 41 points, five behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings vs. Valencia|
|Angel Di Maria||8||8|
|Asier Illarramendi||N/A||No rating|
This was the final league match of 2013 for both teams.
Real Madrid return to league action Jan. 6 with a home match against Celta Vigo. Valencia host Levante on Jan. 4.