Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid beat Xerez 3-0 in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Ronaldo, returning from a two-game suspension, headed in Kaka’s carefully placed cross from the right in the 71st. The two combined again in the 72nd, with the Brazil playmaker passing for Ronaldo to volley home.
Defender Alvaro Arbeloa scored his first league goal for Madrid in the 65th minute, running in from the right wing on to a long pass to shoot past goalkeeper Renan Brito.
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The result means Madrid is on 53 points, two behind leader Barcelona, which visits Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
"We never stopped needing Cristiano, although we won our games without him," Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "Today, he was back. He scored two goals, created a lot of space and gave a lot to the team."
Valencia, third on 43 points, was held to a 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon. Villarreal beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.
At Xerez’s Chapin Stadium, a minute’s silence was observed before kickoff and the visitors wore armbands in tribute to former Real Madrid player and coach Luis Molowny, who died on Friday.
Xerez, which is rooted to the bottom of the league standings, looked desperate for its third win of the season and showed some of its best form of the season early in the game.
In the 12th, Jeronimo "Momo" Figueroa controlled a long pass from Carlos Calvo and blasted a left-footed shot just over. Figueroa sent a similar chance over the bar in the 26th.
Madrid responded with a move that led to Ronaldo heading Arbeloa’s cross at Brito.
The field was in a poor state and Ronaldo appeared to blame a bad bounce when he shot wide in the 20th. The Portugal striker came close again when he headed against the post just before halftime.
Esteban Granero appealed for a penalty after falling in the area, although referee Turienzo Alvarez waved play on.
The lively Ronaldo had another chance with a shot from the edge of the area that Brito just managed to control.
As Xerez tired Madrid started to dominate with the scoreline reflecting its superiority.
"In the first half they were stronger than in the second, but after the first goal everything was easier for us," Arbeloa said.
At the Molinon Stadium, Gijon went ahead in the fifth minute when Diego Castro curled a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez.
In the 77th, Juan Manuel Mata scored his sixth of the season, running on to Ever Banega’s through pass and equalizing.
Sporting was the better side in the opening minutes, creating several chances. Miguel Angel de las Cuevas dribbled past David Albelda in the 17th and Sanchez had to dive to stop his low shot.
Valencia looked dangerous on the break, however, with David Villa and then Juan Manuel Mata testing goalkeeper Juan Pablo Colinas early on.
The visitors soon started to control midfield and Carlos Marchena struck the post with a powerful header in the 30th. Colinas did well in the 40th to rush out and steal the ball from the advancing Mata.
Castro could have put the hosts two goals up early in the second half when he found some space in the area, yet he hesitated long enough to allow Jeremy Mathieu to close him down.
In injury time, Santander’s Mate Bilic was through with only Sanchez to beat, although the goalkeeper timed his run well to win the ball and avoid defeat.
In a free-flowing encounter at the Madrigal Stadium, in Juan Carlos Garrido’s first home game in charge of Villarreal, Joan Capdevila put the hosts ahead in the fifth minute.
Igor Gabilondo equalized in the 24th with a long-range shot before Nilmar scored the winner in the 45th after receiving a pass from Ruben "Cani" Garcia.
In the 70th, Iker Muniain replaced Gabilondo. The 17-year-old striker earned a penalty in the 89th, although Diego Lopez saved Andoni Iraola’s strike.
Tempers flared toward the end of the game with Bilbao’s Javier Martinez and Villarreal’s Diego Godin sent off in injury time after clashing. Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros was also dismissed in an ensuing altercation with Pablo Orbaiz, who was also sent off for elbowing Marco Ruben.
The result leaves Bilbao seventh on 33 points and Villarreal ninth on 29 points.
Also Sunday, it’s: Espanyol vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Racing Santander vs. Malaga; Sevilla vs. Osasuna; Valladolid vs. Zaragoza; and Getafe vs. Almeria. On Monday, it’s Tenerife vs. Mallorca.