Real beats Malaga before Juve clash
BARCELONA, Spain (AP)
Real Madrid beat Malaga 2-0 at home on goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria in the Spanish league on Saturday as Carlo Ancelotti's team continues to grind out wins before a tough five-day span with matches against Juventus and Barcelona.
Angel Di Maria scored for Madrid seconds after halftime with a cross intended for Cristiano Ronaldo that caught Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero out of position.
Madrid's 100-million-euro winger Gareth Bale went on for the final 15 minutes after recovering from a leg injury and earned a questionable penalty that Ronaldo converted in injury time.
Ronaldo's eighth goal of the season took him level with Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Both trail Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa with 10.
Madrid hosts Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League and travels to Barcelona next Saturday for the season's first clasico.
''My players' attitudes were much better,'' said Ancelotti, who this week said his team played so poorly recently it could only improve.
''We defended well, were more aggressive and played with our lines closer together,'' he said. ''I hope to see this same intensity in the games to come. We recovered the ball well, applied pressure well and maintained our positions. That was the difference from other games.''
Madrid's victory provisionally closed the gap with Barcelona and Atletico to two points before they played their respective matches at Osasuna and Espanyol later Saturday.
Ancelotti said striker Karim Benzema would be back in his squad for the Juventus match after he missed Saturday's game due to a leg knock he picked up in training on Friday. Youngster Alvaro Morata started in his place and was Madrid's most active player in an otherwise dull first half that only saw Ronaldo hit the crossbar in the eighth minute.
While Madrid again failed to impress, it improved as the match went on and was denied a bigger win only by Caballero.
Malaga, meanwhile, offered even less in attack in manager Bernd Schuster's return to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where he both played and coached for Madrid.
Caballero made an excellent reflex save with his left foot to deny Ronaldo from close range in the 82nd and two minutes later used his right hand to parry substitute Jese Rodriguez's low shot past his upright.
Di Maria said he wanted to see Caballero join him on Argentina's national team as it prepares for the 2014 World Cup.
''I believe Caballero deserves to go,'' Di Maria said.
But Caballero couldn't reach Ronaldo's well-placed spot kick into the corner of the net after Bale went flying to the turf following what appeared to be light contact with Malaga defender Weligton.
Bale had done little before the penalty in his first action since injuring his left hamstring last month.
Real Sociedad also play Valencia late Saturday looking for a much-needed win before its Champions League trip to Manchester United on Tuesday.