Tue, Jan 22, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Real, Atletico chip into Barca’s lead

CAPITAL CHALLENGE:Real Madrid put five past Valencia, while neighbors Atletico closed the gap on the leaders to eight points, despite losing Radamel Falcao to injury

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves, center, and defender Adil Rami, left, battle for the ball with Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira in their La Liga match at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo netted two goals and set up another to power Real Madrid’s blistering attack to a 5-0 demolition of Valencia in La Liga on Sunday, while Atletico Madrid chipped into Barcelona’s lead by maintaining their perfect record at home.

Real decided the match by halftime with braces by Ronaldo and Angel di Maria after Gonzalo Higuain had opened the scoring.

Atletico, meanwhile, eased to a 2-0 win over Levante UD, despite losing striker Radamel Falcao to injury for their 11th win in 11 home games this season, breathing an inkling of life into the title chase.

Atletico took advantage of Barcelona’s first league defeat of the season the day before to reduce the gap to the pacesetters to eight points.

Real Madrid’s best performance, and arguably the best first half played by any team in Spain this season, of its otherwise trouble-filled league campaign left Jose Mourinho’s team in third place, 15 points adrift of Barcelona.

Real finally resembled the side that strolled through the league last season en route to the championship with a record haul of points (100) and goals (121).

Real had already beaten Valencia 2-0 just five days before in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final. The two teams meet for a third time in nine days tomorrow in the return leg.

Valencia’s collapse was complete. Their attack was toothless, the midfield sloppy with the ball, and their defense uncoordinated and repeatedly undone with the simplest of through passes into wide open spaces behind the back line.

However, Real were brutally efficient, quick to recover the ball and clinical in their finishing, whether on the break or elaborating an attack against a set defense.

Higuain got Madrid rolling in the ninth minute by making up for an earlier miss when he trailed Di Maria and fired his back-pass beyond goalkeeper Diego Alves.

After Sami Khedira had squandered a pair of clear looks on goal, Ronaldo doubled the visitors’ advantage in the 35th minute by running onto a long pass, cutting back — first to his right, then to his left — to give Di Maria time to arrive on the far side, before crossing for the winger to tap home.

Just seconds after the restart Valencia were again retrieving the ball from their net after Real robbed the ball and in two passes left Ronaldo sprinting free to stab the ball between Diego Alves and his near post to make it 3-0.

The flurry of goals left Valencia and the fans at the Estadio Mestalla shell-shocked and the visitors just kept pouring it on.

Ronaldo whipped in a vicious volley in the 41st minute after Mesut Oezil had deftly knocked down Di Maria’s lobbed pass and just before the halftime whistle Di Maria was inexplicably left unmarked on the break to take a pass from Oezil and casually slip the ball under the helpless Diego Alves.

Ronaldo’s brace gave him 18 goals in the league, tied with Falcao. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 29 goals through 20 rounds.

Elsewhere on Sunday, CA Osasuna beat visiting RC Deportivo de La Coruna 2-1 to move off the bottom of the standings and sink their rivals into last place, while forward Oscar Gonzalez scored one goal and set up another to steer midtable Real Valladolid to a 2-0 home win over Real Zaragoza.

Earlier at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, Adrian Lopez broke through for Atletico by capping a team buildup in the 32nd minute. Jorge “Koke” Resurrecion then put the result beyond doubt in the 61st, four minutes after Falcao walked off clutching the upper part of his left leg.

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