MADRID, Spain, January 8 – Real Madrid extended their lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga to six points on Saturday with a 5-1 rout of Granada in the minnows’ first trip to the Santiago Bernabeu in 36 years.
The pressure is now on champions Barcelona, who still boast the psychological advantage of having beaten Real last month, when they meet Espanyol on Sunday.
Real coach Jose Mourinho promised there would be no repeat of the sloppy first half performance in the King’s Cup against Malaga in midweek where they had to come from behind to win 3-2.
But it was still a laboured first 45 minutes with the team fortunate to go in 2-1 up at the break.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil combined to set up Karim Benzema to slot in the home side’s first goal, but Granada replied from their first real attack with an unmarked Mikel Rico heading into the corner after 22 minutes.
With the Real defence dozing again, Granada could have gone ahead after they cut through the backline but Rico saw his shot saved well by Iker Casillas.
Sergio Ramos then headed Real back into the lead from a corner after 34 minutes.
The game turned in the first few minutes after the break when Gonzalo Higuain and Benzema finished off Granada’s hopes of a comeback and then, with a minute to go, Ronaldo hit the fifth.
“The third goal after the break was the key,” said Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka.
“We knew that Granada were going to be a difficult opponent as they showed in the first half but they are a team which is built to defend and so after we had scored the third — and with all the space at the Bernabeu — they had more problems.”
Granada coach Fabri Gonzalez felt that it was a lack of composure after the restart which proved crucial.
“It was all over after the third goal and then we made it worse by conceding the fourth but before that the game was quite competitive,” he said.
Champions League hopefuls Levante drew 0-0 against Mallorca, but remained four points clear of fifth-placed Osasuna who were also locked in a stalemate with Real Sociedad.
Levante started the stronger but Mallorca took the game to the home side as the match progressed and keeper Gustavo Munua came to their rescue on a number of occasions.
He denied Emilio Nsue in the first half before also blocking well from Fernando Tissone and Jose Luis Marti later on.
Arouna Kone was Levante’s biggest threat and had a goal ruled out for being fractionally offside after 66 minutes.
It was a more open contest between in-form Sociedad and Osasuna but neither was able to make the breakthrough.
Atletico Madrid showed more bite under new coach Diego Simeone as they drew 0-0 with sixth-placed Malaga.
With Atletico failing to demonstrate the consistency needed to push for a place in Europe, coach Gregorio Manzano was shown the door before Christmas and Simeone was given the responsibility to install a more solid style.
They showed plenty of tenacity and grew as the game went on against Malaga who bossed the first half but found it difficult to create clear cut chances with Jose Rondon going closest with a header which was saved well by the keeper.
“I liked the team spirit and the collective effort. Malaga pushed us back but after the first 25 minutes we were able to attack more and in the second half we played the game how we wanted to,” said Simeone.
“We were working hard for this match and we knew what we wanted to do. This game was on the back of some bad results and it was a match of necessities against a Malaga side with quality players and a big budget.”
At the bottom of the table, Bernardo Espinosa gave Racing Santander a 1-0 win over Zaragoza which took them out of the relegation zone but left the visitors five points adrift.