Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale had a perfect return to action after three games out through injury, delivering a goal and an assist as los Blancos moved provisionally to the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Real’s 4-2 win over Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu, coupled with Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 defeat at UD Almeria on the same day allowed Real to usurp their city rivals just three days after dealing Diego Simeone’s side a crushing 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.
Bale opened the scoring with his 11th goal of the season, before teeing up Karim Benzema to make it 2-0 inside the first 25 minutes.
Jese Rodriguez and Benzema’s second rounded off the scoring for the hosts after the break, while Mario Gaspar and Giovani Dos Santos scored two brilliant consolation goals for el Submarino Amarillo.
Real are now unbeaten in 23 games since October last year and Bale believes the results show he and his teammates are enjoying the way they are playing right now.
“We managed to get three important points. I am very happy with my goal, but the important thing is that the team won and that we put pressure on our rivals for the title,” he told Real Madrid TV. “The team is doing very well and we are enjoying ourselves on the pitch. The proof of that is in the results.”
A key figure in Real’s unbeaten run has been midfielder Luka Modric and the former Tottenham Hotspur man received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu crowd after another stellar performance on Saturday.
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti said after the game that Modric fully deserved the praise he has received of late, but the Croatian said the plaudits will not go to his head.
“I am very proud that the fans sang my name. It is incredible and I feel very at home here, but, as I have said on previous occasions, the important thing is that the team is playing very well and winning. We will continue to work hard to continue like this,” he said
It was a night of contrasting emotions for the sides from the Spanish capital as Atletico lost for just the second time in La Liga this season to relegation-threatened Almeria.
Simeone’s men were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to injury and the Belgian’s presence was sorely missed as replacement Daniel Aranzubia endured a nightmare evening.
The former Deportivo de la Coruna goalkeeper was badly at fault as he flapped at Verza’s opener for Almeria 10 minutes from time and was sent off six minutes later for bundling over Jonathan Zongo inside the area.
Verza doubled his tally with ease from the spot to ensure Real would go top on goal-difference.
Elsewhere in the league on Saturday, Real Betis Balompie stayed rooted at the bottom of the table after a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Valencia, while fellow strugglers Rayo Vallecano de Madrid surprised Malaga with a 4-1 drubbing.