Liga - Madrid survive shock to beat Zaragoza

Sat, 28 Jan 21:57:00 2012

Real Madrid recovered from going a goal down to La Liga's bottom club Real Zaragoza to emerge 3-1 winners at the Bernabeu and increase their lead at the top of La Liga.

Cristiano Ronaldo - 0

Lafita stunned the home supporters when exploiting some poor defending to score after only 11 minutes, but Kaka ensured Madrid were level at half-time when producing a fine run and finish to score his fifth goal of the season.

Though Madrid were not at the imperious best that has characterised their campaign to date, they were in little danger of seeing a run of 14 wins in 15 league matches come to an end when Cristiano Ronaldo tapped home from close range just four minutes after the restart to put them in front.

Mesut Oezil added a fine third when lashing the ball past Roberto at his near post following a lovely pass from Kaka, with the victory taking Madrid a full eight points clear of rivals Barcelona - and after the Blaugrana later drew 0-0 at Villarreal, their lead now stands at seven points.

Having started Wednesday's Copa del Rey clasico with a quite frightening intensity, Madrid were decidedly less impressive against Zaragoza and Esteban Granero in particular was guilty of some sloppy passing in a poor opening to the game.

Indeed, after Karim Benzema had spurned a great chance to score from a Ronaldo cross, Madrid were punished for their carelessness when, against all expectation, they found themselves a goal down to a side that had scored only 14 all season, and just two in the last eight.

Carlos Aranda broke in behind the defence when Madrid's players were caught cold by a quick free kick and he squared to the unmarked Lafita, who simply tapped the ball past Iker Casillas for a shock lead for La Liga's bottom club.

Madrid's response was slow and unconvincing, though they did gradually begin to create more chances in front of their disappointed supporters and could have had a penalty when Granero was knocked to ground in the box.

Kaka went close when his back header from an Oezil cross flew narrowly wide and the Brazil international continued to threaten soon after when Marcelo's cross for Ronaldo was deflected into his path. However, he lost his footing when getting his shot away and watched it skew wide.

His finish was much more accomplished after 32 minutes though: Kaka darted into a pocket of space to collect a lovely pass from Xabi Alonso to the left of the box, opened up his body and steered a shot under Roberto for the equaliser.

Madrid went in level at the break but forged ahead just four minutes into the second half. Granero slipped a pass out wide to Oezil and when the Germany international executed a low cross Ronaldo was just level, allowing him to sweep the ball home from close range for his 24th goal in 20 La Liga matches this season.

Mourinho's side had set a new Spanish record when scoring 67 goals in their first 19 league games of the season and after a wasteful first half appeared to have rediscovered their prolific touch when scoring a third after 56 minutes.

Granero found Kaka and the Brazilian produced a fine first-time pass to turn the ball into the path of the Germany international, who had burst into the box. Oezil was presented with the tightest of angles but the extreme velocity of his shot ensured goalkeeper Roberto was beaten at his near post.

That goal effectively ended the tie as a contest, though Zaragoza did briefly threaten on 72 minutes when a fine pass from Javier Paredes found substitute Helder Postiga in space through the middle. He held off Ricardo Carvalho to test Casillas with a firm effort.

A succession of substitutions robbed the game of any energy - with Benzema, Alonso and Kaka all given a rest by Mourinho - but Madrid secured the desired result to maintain the pressure on Barca.

Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao are fifth and sixth in the table after both won earlier in the day.

Espanyol recovered from their shock quarter-final Copa del Rey exit during the week to tiny Mirandes, of Spain's third tier, to beat 10-man Real Mallorca 1-0 at home.

Vladimir Weiss capitalised on an error from Mallorca's Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Aouate to put the Catalans in front after 18 minutes, but they failed to make the extra man count when Aouate was harshly sent off just after the break.

Spain striker Fernando Llorente scored a hat-trick as Copa semi-finalists Bilbao came from behind to win 3-2 in a pulsating encounter at Rayo Vallecano.

The powerful frontman headed the equaliser, controlled a long ball and turned his marker to put them 2-1 up, and his headed winner was his 11th league goal this season.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport / Reuters

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