Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 12th goal in as many games and Keylor Navas made several saves to help Real Madrid earn a deceptively tough 3-1 win at second-placed RC Celta de Vigo on Saturday and provisionally increase their La Liga lead.
Ronaldo and Danilo gave Madrid a two-goal lead at the Balaidos by the 23rd minute, but Madrid needed Navas to protect their advantage before Celta lost Gustavo Cabral to a second yellow card in the 57th minute.
Despite playing a man down, Manuel “Nolito” Agudo got a deserved goal for the hosts in the 85th minute and Celta almost leveled before Marcelo scored Madrid’s third just before the final whistle.
Celta’s first loss of the season left Madrid as the only undefeated team in La Liga.
Madrid rose three points clear of both the Galician club and defending champion Barcelona, who were due to host Sociedad Deportiva Eibar yesterday.
Madrid coach Rafael Benitez attributed his team’s shaky showing to tired legs from Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League.
“It’s positive for the group that they know that we can win points while struggling,” Benitez said.
Elsewhere, Kevin Gameiro scored a hat-trick in Sevilla’s 5-0 win over 10-man Getafe, Malaga beat visiting RC Deportivo de La Coruna 2-0 and Granada drew 1-1 with Real Betis Balompie at home to stay in the relegation zone.
Even though he was eventually beaten by Nolito, Navas had another outstanding performance between the posts for Madrid since taking over from club legend Iker Casillas this summer.
Navas, who set a club record with five straight clean sheets to start the season, conceded just his third goal in 12 matches this season.
The Costa Rica international goalkeeper made four excellent saves in the first half and consistently bailed out Madrid’s defense, which was overrun by Celta’s attacking trio of Nolito, Fabian Orellana and Iago Aspas.
“Honestly, Navas stopped four clear goals. You have to congratulate him, I don’t know how he did it,” said Nolito, who scored his seventh league goal to match Ronaldo’s haul. “I take away our effort with only 10 men. We have to be happy, despite the loss.”
Still without injured stars Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Ronaldo ensured Madrid got off to a great start in the eighth minute when he passed to Lucas Vazquez before making a clever run to slip behind Celta defender Jonathan Castro to receive Vazquez’s return pass and slot home.
Celta searched for an equalizer during a 10-minute stretch that included several chances, the best of which was a powerful shot from Orellana that Navas palmed away in the 18th minute, but Castro left Celta’s left side of the penalty area completely undefended for Danilo to size up goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez and double the lead.
Unfazed, Celta surged forward with the same attacking verve that had produced a stunning 4-1 win over Barcelona last month before Lionel Messi injured his knee.
The difference was Navas, who made three more superb interventions before halftime to block a Daniel Wass free-kick, before saving efforts from Aspas and Pablo Hernandez after they were set up by Nolito.
Celta dominated possession and the flow of play even after Cabral was sent off for dissent.
Marcelo cleared Nolito’s shot off the line in the 72nd minute, before the forward finally bettered Navas with a pinpoint strike just inside the top corner, sparking a determined rally by Celta that came up just short of a second goal when substitute John Guidetti missed from close range.
In Seville, Gameiro struck twice in the 35th and 45th minutes, before adding a penalty when Getafe’s Carlos Vigarary was sent off after Ever Banega had made it 3-0 for Sevilla from another spot-kick.
Yevhen Konoplyanka scored a third penalty for Sevilla’s fifth.
Malaga’s Adnane Tighadouini scored a free-kick, before Juan Carlos Perez secured their second win of the season.
Granada’s Dimitri Foulquier stole the ball and scored in the sixth minute, only for teammate Ruben Perez to commit a clumsy handball and let Ruben Castro convert a spot-kick for Betis in the 40th.
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