Real Madrid showed they have not waved the white flag in the title race, bouncing back from their demoralizing El Clasico defeat to Barcelona with a 2-1 win at Almeria on Thursday to move three points behind Barcelona at the summit of La Liga.
Albert Crusat shot Almeria into a shock 14th-minute lead, but Real recovered after Cristiano Ronaldo’s 19th league goal of the season and a 69th-minute strike from Rafael van der Vaart sealed a comeback win.
“I missed a lot of chances, so it was nice to finally score,” goal hero van der Vaart said. “We want to win the title and have to win our remaining six games. We have had a great season, but Barcelona have just been a bit better.”
Barcelona had followed up their Real win with a resounding 3-0 home victory over Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday to move six points clear and put the pressure on their rivals.
Madrid responded with a seventh consecutive away win to stay in the title race, although they will have to win the six remaining games and hope Barca slip up if they are to take this season’s title.
Valencia are Real’s next opponents at the Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow and they warmed up for the match with a 2-0 home win over Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.
Spanish international midfielder David Silva scored both goals as third-placed Valencia moved seven points clear of fourth-placed Real Mallorca and look certain to secure one of the Champions League spots this season.
Bilbao stay sixth and face a real fight to hold on to the Europa League place, with Getafe and Villarreal lurking behind.
Real made just one change from the team that lost to Barcelona, with Guti coming into midfield as Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay missed out through injury.
Almeria, just below mid-table, had nothing to play for except the pride of beating Real and the visitors almost scored after three minutes when van der Vaart shot at goalkeeper Diego Alves from close range.
Six minutes later, Ronaldo forced a save from Alves with a trademark free-kick as a goal looked as if it were coming, but it was Almeria who scored it.
Real were all at sea at the back and Kalu Uche cut the ball across goal for Crusat to arrive on cue and smash the ball home.
Real were shocked, but Ronaldo restored parity on 27 minutes, gliding past two defenders with a step-over before firing in a left-footed shot.
Guti hit the post shortly afterwards, but Almeria spurned a fantastic chance to go back in front on the half-hour mark.
Nigerian Uche looked destined to score a meter from goal, but for some reason tried a fancy flick rather than a side-foot. It backfired as the ball rebounded on to his other foot and the chance went begging.
In the second half, Real carved Almeria open time and time again, with Gonzalo Higuain seeing his shot scrambled off the goal-line on 56 minutes. Brazilian Marcelo was denied by the excellent Alves three minutes later.
It looked like it was going to be a frustrating night for Madrid, but van der Vaart fired in a left-footed drive on 69 minutes to finally beat Alves.
Four minutes later, Uche looked poised to equalize after a terrible mistake by defender Raul Albiol, but goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved the day, rushing out to thwart the forward.