Vinicius Junior scored a superb solo goal as Real Madrid cruised to a 3-1 win over Espanyol to cut Barcelona’s lead to six points at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Ruben Baraja’s Valencia pulled off a hard-fought 1-0 win over Osasuna to climb out of the relegation zone thanks to Justin Kluivert’s strike at the Mestalla.
Joselu sent visiting Espanyol ahead early at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Vinicius produced a quick run and deadly finish to draw the champions level.
Eder Militao completed the turnaround with a header and Marco Asensio wrapped up the win late on.
Barcelona travel to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday night to try and regain their lead ahead of the Clasico at the Camp Nou on March 19.
“They caught us a bit with their goal but the game gives us confidence to face a complicated week,” said Nacho, ahead of Madrid’s Champions League clashes with Liverpool on Wednesday and Barcelona on Sunday.
“When space opens up, we’re a team that has very quick players up front (for capital).”
After failing to score from open play in their last three games in all competitions, Madrid’s three well-taken goals were a confidence boost.
With Karim Benzema out with an ankle problem, although he is set to return for the Champions League round of 16 second leg with Liverpool, Carlo Ancelotti has chosen Rodrygo in attack.
The coach also decided to play Eduardo Camavinga again out of position at left-back, and a mistake by the French midfielder helped the visitors take the lead after eight minutes.
Camavinga misjudged a long ball which he allowed to reach Ruben Sanchez, who crossed to striker Joselu and slotted it into the top corner.
It was the striker’s 12th goal this season. Only Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski has scored more in La Liga, with 15.
Unnerved by the Espanyol goal, Madrid quickly recovered in the spring sunshine of the early afternoon, and Vinicius equalized with a superb solo effort.
The Brazilian winger cut in from the left and drove home to score his 19th goal of the season in all competitions.
– Return completed –
Militao headed the champions ahead before the break, meeting Aurelien Tchouameni’s sumptuous cross, which the midfielder served with the outside of his boot.
Vinicius was again in the wars, he was brought down on the ball by Oscar Gil, who received a yellow card.
The striker has been targeted by opposition defenders in recent months and Gil’s body has added to his complaints.
Vinicius was booked in the first half for a foul, his eighth of the season.
“Many of these (yellow cards) were for protest, but today I want to emphasize that for me his attitude was exemplary,” Ancelotti said.
“He didn’t say anything and he played very well. He has to continue like this, they gave him too many yellow cards for the shots he takes.”
Rodrygo came close to extending Madrid’s lead when he curled a free kick over the wall, but it hit the crossbar.
In the end, Asensio sealed the win after Nacho Fernandez set him up with an uncharacteristic forward dribble.
The defeat leaves Espanyol temporarily 14th, two points above the relegation zone.
“Our game plan is what we did today, to go out there, ready for it, we don’t let the opponent play,” Joselu told Movistar.
“We saw Real Madrid shooting from distance, we made it difficult for them.
“We have to take away from this game the great effort we put in… this is the path we have to follow.”
Valencia temporarily moved up to 16th place, a point above the relegation zone, with their narrow win over Osasuna.
Kluivert scored his fourth league goal of the season to win the game in the 74th minute, a fine finish after being picked out by Samuel Lino.
After several penalty appeals by Valencia, some of which were excessive, were turned down, the hosts were eventually awarded a spot-kick in stoppage time when Thierry Correia was brought down.
However, Herrera saved with his legs from Hugo Duro who hit a low ball into the middle, leaving the hosts worried until the very end.
“Look at the Mestalla today, how beautiful it is,” Kluivert, son of former Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert, told DAZN.
“I like it. We trained very well and hard during the week, and today you see, we defended and attacked together, with the team, I’m very happy.”
Iago Aspas scored twice for Celta Vigo, who climbed to 11th after a comfortable 3-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, seventh.
Tete Morente’s 96th-minute strike earned bottom-of-the-table Elche a 1-1 draw against Real Valladolid, who finished with nine men.
The visitors got Roque Mesa, who received a second yellow card in the 100th minute, and Martin Hongla received a red card for protesting.
Elche remain 13 points adrift and have just two wins from their first 25 matches.