Real Madrid piles pressure on Barca with easy win

AP, Saturday 18 Feb 2012

Spanish leader Real Madrid piled the pressure on Barcelona by provisionally taking a 13-point lead over its rival with a 4-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday

Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring the opener after only six minutes

Spanish leader Real Madrid piled the pressure on Barcelona by taking a provisional 13-point lead over its rival with a 4-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo headed home his league-leading 28th goal after six minutes and the hosts played against 10 men from the 39th when Domingo Cisma was red-carded for handling for a second time.

Karim Benzema scored a goal either side of the break while Angel di Maria marked his first appearance of 2012 with an impressive 73rd-minute strike as Madrid prepared for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 match at CSKA Moscow with its 18th win in 19 league games, which includes eight straight victories.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema from France celebrates his goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match against Racing Santander at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

“We won easily, we won without much shine or too much effort, but we won well,” Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. “We won without having to suffer, which is the most positive aspect.”

Three-time defending champion Barcelona will need to beat Valencia on Sunday at the Camp Nou to remain within 10 points of its biggest rival.

As encouraging as Di Maria’s and Sami Khedira’s returns from injuries ahead of the CSKA match were, Di Maria and Ronaldo both limped off after the final whistle. Di Maria appeared to hurt the same right thigh muscle that had sidelined him since December, while Ronaldo’s ankle bothered him.

Madrid was keen to end a recent run of conceding the opener at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as it charged out of the start buoyed by the return of Kaka and Marcelo to the starting lineup, while Raphael Varane made a rare start at centerback to shift Sergio Ramos wide. Di Maria and Khedira both got minutes as second-half substitutes while Gonzalo Higuain watched from the bench as Mourinho looked to save the Argentina striker for Moscow.

 “It’s important to have as many players as possible available now that we’re entering a period when we’ll play games every three days,” Mourinho said.

Ronaldo watched a header come off the post before scoring after Kaka’s initial cross rebounded back to the Brazilian to head to the wide-open Ronaldo inside the box. Madrid has won all 30 games in which Kaka has scored or assisted on a goal and the Brazilian playmaker was active throughout.

Antonio Rodriguez continued to be Santander’s standout player as the Spanish ‘keeper tipped Benzema’s weak shot wide before recovering to save from Ronaldo in the 28th. Rodriguez did well to deny Marcelo’s volley after Xabi Alonso spotted the Brazil fullback streaking in from the left side before Cisma’s hands got in the way of Ronaldo’s cross to leave Santander with little hope as Madrid was already dominating.

Benzema patiently ran on to Alonso’s threaded free kick before looping over Rodriguez, with either Ramos or Bernardo Espinosa likely helping the ball over the line for a 2-0 lead before the break. Madrid’s defense was sturdy and allowed few chances to its 18th-place opponents.

Di Maria scored within 10 minutes of going on as the Argentina international carried across the face of the area before curling a tricky shot that touched Rodriguez’s fingertips on its course into goal.

Benzema capped the rout with his 13th league goal in the 89th as the France striker’s rising shot touched a Santander defender before finishing in the top corner.

 “Every game we want to play like this and prepare like this for the Champions League,” said Benzema, who gave Madrid 79 goals through 23 games as it chases the record of 109 in a season.

Also, Getafe striker Nicolas “Miku” Fedor won and scored a late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Espanyol, and Sevilla played Osasuna late Saturday.

Fedor stepped up to slot home the spot kick in the 70th minute after he was fouled by Espanyol’s Thievy Boufama inside the area.

Espanyol had gone ahead only four minutes earlier through Alvaro Vazquez, who was returning from injury. The visitors played with 10 men from the 81st when Ernesto Galan was sent off for a second yellow card.

Espanyol moved into provisional fourth place with the point, one point above Levante. Valencia was eight points back of Barcelona in third.

In other 23rd-round games, it’s: Levante vs. Rayo Vallecano; Granada vs. Real Sociedad; Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga; Sporting Gijon vs. Atletico Madrid; Mallorca vs. Villarreal; and Zaragoza vs. Real Betis.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter: @AO_Sports)


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