Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in the second half as Real Madrid returned from La Liga's winter break with a 3-0 win at home to Celta Vigo on Monday evening.
Karim Benzema broke the deadlock in the second half, and Ronaldo added two late goals to keep Los Blancos within five points of pace-setting Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. The goals were Ronaldo's 19th and 20th of the season, most in La Liga.
With the win, Real moved onto 44 points, five behind Barca and Atletico. Carlo Ancelotti's side remained third in the table. Celta Vigo, who entered the match in 17th place, fell to 18th behind Real Valladolid on goal differential.
Real Madrid went into the winter break five points behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Both won again over the weekend, meaning Carlo Ancelotti's team needed victory and three points to remain within touching distance of the pace-setters.
Gareth Bale, who returned to Real Madrid training last week following a calf injury, started the match on the bench. Ronaldo took his customary place in the attack, joined by Isco, Angel Di Maria and center-forward Benzema.
Before the match, both teams paid tribute to Eusebio with a moment of silence. The former Portuguese international died Sunday at age 71. Ronaldo dedicated his first goal to Eusebio, per Fox Soccer.
Real controlled the early exchanges, but on five minutes, the hosts were nearly behind after Celta created the first chance.
After running onto Augusto Fernandez's long ball from Celta's half, Charles found space behind Real Madrid's defense and forced a save out of Diego Lopez in a one-on-one situation. The hosts survived, but had been cut open with alarming ease.
In the 14th minute, Ronaldo slipped a pass through Celta's defense to Benzema on the left side of the box, but Benzema's shot was blocked. Moments later, Marcelo's back-post header was off target—though replays appeared to show the ball grazing the hand of Celta defender David Costas.
Real continued to push for the opener and were nearly rewarded in the 24th minute. Ronaldo held off a defender in the box and laid off for Benzema, whose shot was deflected out.
In the 27th minute, Ronaldo had a shot blocked after racing onto Di Maria's angled pass in the box, and one minute later, Modric fired over the bar from distance.
At the other end, Borja Oubina had a chance to put Celta ahead when a corner trickled through to him at the back post, but his header looped over the bar.
After a scoreless first half, Ancelotti introduced midfielder Asier Illarramendi for Xabi Alonso at half-time. Real continued to attack, and Isco forced a save out of Yoel in the 55th minute with a turn and shot from the edge of the box.
Ancelotti made a second change in the 62nd minute, introducing Jese Rodriguez in place of Isco. Jese nearly made an instant impact, volleying a shot straight at Yoel less than a minute after entering the pitch.
Bale then entered in the 65th minute, replacing Di Maria for Real Madrid's third and final substitution. But it was Celta who nearly took the lead within moments of the switch.
After pouncing on an errant pass in midfield, Rafinha slotted a pass to Charles along the edge of Real Madrid's box. With only Lopez to beat, Charles scooped his shot wide of the far post.
Within moments, Real made Celta pay.
Following Dani Carvajal's deflected cross from the right, Jese picked up the ball deep on the left side of Celta's box and squared for Benzema. Benzema needed only one touch to slice the ball into the net for a 1-0 Real Madrid lead in the 67th minute.
"In the first half we struggled a little bit because (Celta) were very compact at the back and worked the ball out well," Jese said, per RealMadrid.com. "Then Bale and I came on and it made a difference. It is important to help the team. That's the mentality."
Celta had a chance to level in the 72nd minute, but Nolito curled his free kick high and wide. Ronaldo nearly made it 2-0 three minutes later, but his low shot from the right rolled just wide of the back post.
The respite was brief for Celta, however. Real Madrid doubled their advantage in the 82nd minute, and Ronaldo finally put himself on the scoresheet.
Carvajal crossed from the right, and though the ball rolled past Benzema, Ronaldo was on hand to sweep home. It was the Portuguese superstar's 19th league goal of the season, joint-most in La Liga with Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa.
Ronaldo made it 3-0 in stoppage time, hammering home Bale's cross from the right. With the goal, Ronaldo took the lead in La Liga's scoring race, one goal ahead of Costa.
After the match, Di Maria drew attention for a gesture he made while being substituted. Di Maria had endured boos from the home fans for much of his time on the pitch.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings vs. Celta Vigo|
|Angel Di Maria||6||6|
Real Madrid host Osasuna on Thursday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round of 16 tie. Los Blancos return to league play with a match at Espanyol on Sunday.
Celta Vigo host Valencia in the league on Saturday.