Ronaldo-less Real Madrid defeats Villarreal: La Liga
Madrid wins 4-2
Real Madrid forwards Gareth Bale and Jese Rodriguez each scored and set up goals for Karim Benzema in an entertaining 4-2 win over Villarreal on Saturday, provisionally pulling the powerhouse to the top of the Spanish standings.
With leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo serving the first of a three-game suspension, Bale shone by opening in the seventh minute at the Santiago Bernabeu before he crossed for Benzema's first goal in the 25th.
After Villarreal's Mario Gaspar struck in the 43rd, Jese took what proved to be Madrid's winner in the 64th before Villarreal forward Giovani Dos Santos curled in a free kick in the 69th. Jese found Benzema for his double in the 76th.
Atletico Madrid, which lost 3-0 at Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, had to rebound at Almeria later to reclaim sole possession of the league lead.
Barcelona trails both title rivals by three points and visits Sevilla on Sunday.
If any Madrid supporters were worried how their team would fare without Ronaldo and his league-leading 22 goals, they needn't have as Carlo Ancelotti's side extended its unbeaten streak to 23 games in all competitions.
Instead of struggling, Benzema recorded his 12th and 13th league goals, Bale arguably proved worthy of his world-record transfer, and the 20-year-old Jese gave Madrid's fans more hope they have finally found their next homegrown star.
Bale seemed particularly eager to take charge with Ronaldo out and after returning from a leg injury that sidelined him for two matches.
And Bale was helped to start the scoring by defender Jose Dorado's bad decision-making and even poorer execution.
Dorado unwisely tried to dribble around Bale instead of passing to a nearby teammate. The Wales winger pounced on his clumsy touch to steal the ball, press forward unchallenged, and coolly chip helpless goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Bale then used a burst of speed to leave behind Jaume Costa on the right flank before crossing for Benzema, whose short-range volley hit Asenjo before landing in the net.
Villarreal, however, didn't wilt and Gaspar drilled the ball inside the far corner of the goalframe to halve the deficit before halftime.
Madrid lost left back Marcelo to injury when he gingerly walked off the pitch in the 18th, and his replacement, Fabio Coentrao, didn't return after halftime, apparently due to injury. Alvaro Arbeloa took his place.
Jese ran onto Angel Di Maria's incisive pass before he slipped the ball around Asenjo with a sly touch using the outside of his right boot to make it 3-1.
Again Villarreal wasn't done, and Dos Santos curled in a left-footed free kick, but Jese steered a Madrid counterattack before squaring for Benzema to fire home and secure the three points.
Also, Valencia rolled over bottom-side Real Betis 5-0 as it continued to show its turnaround under coach Juan Pizzi, while Rayo Vallecano broke a run of six home losses by humbling 10-man Malaga 4-1 to move to within two points of safety.
Striker Pablo Alcacer scored twice for Valencia, with Jeremy Mathieu, Sofiane Feghouli and newcomer Eduardo Vargas adding goals at Mestalla Stadium.
Since Pizzi took over last month, Valencia has climbed into eighth place with three wins, two draws and one loss in La Liga.
Rayo thrashed Malaga thanks to Iago Falque's brace and goals by Anaitz Arbilla and Joaquin Larrivey. Malaga played with 10 men during the second half after Sergio Sanchez received his second booking.