Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho celebrated nine years unbeaten in the league on home soil as his Real Madrid team defeated Levante 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday to close to within two points of league leaders Barcelona.
First-half goals from French forward Karim Benzema and Portuguese centerback Ricardo Carvalho helped Real make it a perfect 12 home league wins and keep the pressure on Barcelona in the title race.
It also meant Mourinho extended his personal unbeaten home league run with Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real to nine years with his last league home defeat back on Feb. 23, 2002, when his Porto side lost 3-2 to Beira Mar.
“We don’t depend on ourselves and really the pressure is on us in second, not on the team at the top,” Mourinho said. “I don’t know if I will watch Barcelona v Athletic [Bilbao] on Sunday. We are traveling [to Lyon] on Monday, so perhaps I will eat out with the family.”
Mourinho rested Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso and Emmanuel Adebayor with tomorrow’s Champions League match in Lyon in mind, but his side were still too strong for a Levante side they had thrashed 8-0 in the Copa del Rey.
“We gave a rest to Ozil and Xabi. Everyone knows they will play against Lyon, who have had 24 hours more rest than us,” Mourinho said.
With just six minutes gone, Argentine di Maria dribbled past three defenders, before crossing to give Benzema an easy tap-in for only his third league goal of the season.
Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo all went close, before Madrid got their second from a set-piece five minutes before the break. Ronaldo floated in a cross from the left and compatriot Carvalho volleyed home from close range as Levante got their back-line all wrong.
Levante, two points above the bottom three, had won their last three league outings, but they hardly troubled stand-in Real goalkeeper Antonio Adan, deputizing for the suspended Iker Casillas, with the 23-year-old having a comfortable game on his Real home league debut.
German international midfielder Sami Khedira had the chance to make it 3-0 early in the second half, but he didn’t get a good connection on his shot and goalkeeper Gustavo Munua saved.
Munua had to be at his best on 64 minutes when he tipped over a header from Ronaldo and then denied Benzema from the resulting corner.
Ronaldo, who could easily have had a hat-trick, was thwarted again in the 80th minute as Real pressed for more.
Earlier on Saturday, third-placed Valencia missed the chance to pull away from Champions League rivals Villarreal following a disappointing 0-0 home draw with strugglers Sporting Gijon.
Valencia were in a rich vein of form with six league wins from seven this year, but they were out of sorts at the Estadio Mestalla as they failed to score in the league for the first time since early December.
For Sporting, who drew 1-1 with Barcelona last time out, it was a valuable point and they move two points above the relegation zone.
Valencia, who drew 1-1 with Schalke 04 in their Champions League round-of-16 first-leg match in midweek, looked slightly jaded and Sporting almost won the game in the final seconds when Mate Bilic was centimeters away from connecting with a cross from the left.
In Saturday’s other match, Atletico Madrid ended a run of four consecutive defeats with a 1-0 win at Real Zaragoza to move four points off the top six.