BARCELONA, Spain (AFP) - A double from Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain helped Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini celebrate a 6-2 victory over his former team Villarreal as the winners kept up the pressure on Spanish league leaders Barcelona on Sunday.
Real - who are just two points behind Barcelona - started like a dream with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring from a brilliant freekick and dedicated it to the flood victims of his home island of Madeira, and then Brazilian star Kaka puit them 2-0 to the good with a penalty.
Villarreal, though, struck back through Brazilian Nilmar before seeing Real add a third as Higuain struck for the first time, but Villarreal gamely replied through Spanish international midfielder Marcos Senna.
However, the visitors hopes were finally dashed with 20 minutes remaining when Higuain was on hand to tap home Marcelo's low pass from the left side of the penalty area.
Kaka somewhat cruelly for Villarreal added a fifth near fulltime and Xabi Alonso scored a penalty to give the scoreline an unbalanced look but gave Real the perfect pep-up following their 1-0 defeat by Lyon in last Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first leg match in France.
Athletic Bilbao have a European place in their sights after a convincing 4-1 win over ten-man Tenerife.
The Basque side are now one point off sixth-placed Mallorca after a game in which they never looked back following a penalty taken by Fernando Llorente, after a foul by Jose Culberas on Gaizka Toquero for which he was sent-off.
Toquero scored himself from a flick-on by Llorente and then after the break Andoni Iraola added another before Alejandro Alfaro pulled a goal back.
Igor Gabilondo, though, restored the three-goal advantage with just less than half an hour to go.
Malaga continued their good run which has seen them pick up ten points from a possible 12 with a 2-1 win over Espanyol.
The home side went ahead through Fernando Fernandez but Victor Ruiz drew Espanyol level before half-time and while it was they who had the better of the second half, Victor Obinna scored the vital goal to give Malaga victory.
Valladolid lost the chance to win three key points in their battle against relegation as a late goal from Camunas saw Osasuna draw 1-1.
In a frantic finale Haris Medunjanin put the visitors ahead but Javier Camunas gave Osasuna a share of the spoils with four minutes left. Zaragoza are now just one point above Valladolid after they lost 3-1 at home to Sporting Gijon.
Mate Bilic and Luis Moran put Sporting into a commanding lead and then in in injury time there goals for either side from Angel Arizmendi and David Barral.
On Saturday leaders Barcelona put their injury concerns to one side as they cruised to a 4-0 win over Racing Santander.
The Catalan side had seen their lead reduced to two points following their first league defeat last weekend against Atletico Madrid but despite missing several key players they were always in charge against Racing.
Andres Iniesta scored the opener and then Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez added to the lead with free-kicks before substitute Thiago Alcantara made the win more emphatic with a deflected goal six minutes from the end.
On Monday Valencia aim to continue their good run of form which has seen them only lose once in eight games against Getafe.
|20||G. Higuaín||54' 60' 71'|
|Coach: M. Pellegrini|
for Granero 76'
for Kaká 82'
for L. Diarra 84'
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