Cristiano Ronaldo scored a goal and helped create another as Real Madrid moved to the top of La Liga, at least temporarily, with a 2-0 win at home to Granada Saturday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Ronaldo had chances to score at least once more but was denied repeatedly by the crossbar and Granada goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez's fine outing. Even so, his superb goal to break the deadlock early in the second half underlined his status as the world's top player following his Ballon d'Or win last week.
Karim Benzema also scored in the second half for Real Madrid, who went two points clear at the top of the table. Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, both two points behind, play Sunday.
The win was Madrid's fifth straight in the league. Los Blancos are unbeaten in 11 league matches dating back to their loss at Barcelona in October.
But the victory was marred somewhat by a possible injury to record signing Gareth Bale, who left the match at half-time having received treatment after a hard challenge in the first half.
"We are where we wanted to be. We’ve recovered a lot of points and we’re on a good run of form with good results," Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso said, per Inside Spanish Football. "But we have to keep improving, correcting things and moving forward. That’s how we need to go on from here."
Real Madrid go top of La Liga for the first time since May 2012, becoming the third team to top the table in 2014.— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) January 25, 2014
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti selected an unchanged lineup from the past two league matches, both of which resulted in wins for Los Blancos. Angel Di Maria, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric started in the midfield of the 4-3-3 system, with Isco again left out. Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema led the attack, while Sergio Ramos and Pepe anchored the defence.
Before the match, Ronaldo posed for pictures with his teammates while holding his Ballon d'Or award. The home fans marked the occasion with a large-scale display in the Bernabeu stands:
The Bernabeu pays tribute to Cristiano Ronaldo pic.twitter.com/qSRBVZReRC— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) January 25, 2014
Ronaldo had his first sight of goal in the sixth minute, when he flashed a shot wide of the target from the left. Real Madrid came close twice in the 11th minute, first when Manuel Iturra directed a defensive header off his own crossbar, then when Ramos headed inches over the target from Di Maria's corner.
Benzema had a half-chance in the 23rd minute from Marcelo's angled cross, but his first-time volley flew off target. Benzema put the ball in the net in the 27th minute, sweeping in Ramos' head-on from a corner, but the offside flag was up. Replays showed it was the correct decision.
Just before the end of the first half, Ronaldo forced a save from Roberto with a spectacular overhead kick. Bale had a chance to score on the rebound, but his header was weak and Fernandez saved again.
That turned out to be Bale's last involvement. The Welshman left the match at half-time, replaced by Jese in the 46th minute. Bale had received treatment for an knock following a tough tackle by Jeison Murillo in the ninth minute.
After the match, Ancelotti said Bale was not injured and "should be fit" for Real Madrid's next match, per @RealMadridEN.
Real went straight back on the attack in the second half. Di Maria forced another save in the 52nd minute with a swerving shot from the edge of the box. Di Maria set up Modric moments later with a clever pass in the box, but Roberto came off his line alertly to save again.
The breakthrough finally came in the 56th minute, and it was worth the wait.
Ronaldo collected a pass from Modric along the edge of the box and beat a crowd of defenders with excellent close control before finishing low past Roberto at the far post.
It was the Portuguese superstar's 22nd league goal of the season, and he wasn't done marauding Granada's goal yet.
Ronaldo came close again in the 68th minute after being freed on the right side by Dani Carvajal's through ball. This time, though, Roberto saved the low shot with his legs. Five minutes later, Ronaldo hit the crossbar with a free kick.
Real weren't to be denied, though, and in the 74th minute, Benzema clinched the points with Madrid's second goal.
Ronaldo unlocked Granada's defence with a through ball to Marcelo on the left. Marcelo burst into the box and cut back for Benzema, who swept into the net from the middle for a 2-0 lead.
The second goal seemed to kill off the match, and Madrid coasted to victory over the final 15 minutes. For 24 hours at least, Los Blancos will sit atop of the table.
|Angel Di Maria||8||8|
|Jese (for Bale, 46')||N/A||8|
|Isco (for Benzema, 78')||N/A||7|
|Asier Illarramendi (for Di Maria, 83')||N/A||7|
Real Madrid host Espanyol in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final on Tuesday. Madrid won the first leg 1-0 at Espanyol. Los Blancos return to the league next Sunday with a trip to Athletic Bilbao.
Granada host Celta Vigo in the league on Friday.