Real Madrid rallied to a late win against Valencia to turn the screws on Barcelona as the La Liga title race enters the home stretch.
The match at the Santiago Bernabeu was not short of drama, as the Gareth Bale-less home side survived a scare. Cristiano Ronaldo opened up the scoring in the first half with a header, but his missed penalty in the second half nearly came back to haunt the title-hopefuls.
After Luka Modric went down in the box, Ronaldo stepped up to the spot against Valencia’s Diego Alves. The Brazilian goalkeeper lunged to his left to deny Ronaldo, keeping the score at 1-0 in Real Madrid’s advantage. Alves has made a habit of giving penalty-takers fits. The 31-year-old Valencia man has saved six already this La Liga season. In 53 penalty attempts, Alves has made a whopping 26 saves since playing in La Liga, per AP.
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Three of those have come against Ronaldo.
After Dani Parejo’s scintillating free kick tied it up in the 82nd, Real Madrid appeared destined to drop points. But Real’s Marcelo provided a bit of magic to lift his team to a full three points, curling home the match-winner in the 86th minute.
The Bernabeu was rapturous. Perhaps nobody was happier to see the ball hit the back of the net than Ronaldo, rescued by his Brazilian left back. The win provisionally put Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, with Barcelona set to play crosstown rivals Espanyol later on Saturday. The Merengues also have a match in hand on Barcelona, but keeping the pressure on their rivals is paramount in a title chase that looks to go down to the wire.
For a few precious minutes, it looked like Barcelona had a foot in the door. Then, Marcelo stepped up and slammed the door shut.