MADRID, Spain, March 19 – Real Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga was cut to eight points on Sunday when a dramatic injury time goal from Santi Cazorla earned Malaga a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.
The home side had been heading for their 12th successive win following a Karim Benzema header after 35 minutes until a Cazorla free-kick flew into the corner in the 92nd minute.
The result left Real eight points clear of Barcelona after the defending champions had beaten Malaga 2-0 on Saturday, a victory that did nothing to force Barca coach Pep Guardiola to alter his opinion that Madrid will still take the title.
Real coach Jose Mourinho chose not to rest players after the Champions League victory over CSKA Moscow in midweek, other than bringing Lass Diarra in for Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back while Benzema was preferred to Gonzalo Higuain in attack.
Both keepers were busy in the opening exchanges with Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo forcing Willy Caballero into saves while, at the other end, Iker Casillas got down to parry a Jose Rondon strike from the edge of the area.
The home side stepped up a gear as the first half progressed with Ronaldo making powerful runs from deep and Benzema a threat in the Malaga box.
Benzema steered an effort the wrong side of the post before he opened the scoring with a header after poor defending from Malaga.
Ronaldo crossed the ball from the right and the Frenchman was left completely unmarked to nod the ball into the net.
Malaga, who had won their last three games, came out ready to take the fight to Real after the break and brought on former Bernabeu favourite Ruud van Nistelrooy in attack.
But they failed to create a concerted threat and instead Ronaldo should have extended the lead after 59 minutes but was denied by a reflex save from Caballero.
Benzema had a wonderful opportunity to get his second but fired wide in front of goal after being found by Mesut Ozil.
It looked as though Real had the game wrapped up but Cazorla had the final say in stoppage time.
A hat-trick from Roberto Soldado gave Valencia a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in a clinical performance which put them in a commanding position in the battle for a place in the Champions League.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League in midweek, but without injured striker Fernando Llorente they were undone by a Valencia side who are now six points clear in third place.
After an early chance for Jordi Alba who fired wide inside the box, Valencia were gifted the lead when a poor back pass from Mikel San Jose played in Soldado.
There was still plenty to do for the Spain international who rounded the keeper expertly before slotting home.
Valencia gave few chances to Athletic and after the break they added to the lead on the counter-attack through Soldado again.
Alba held off Javi Martinez and set up the striker who slotted the ball into the corner from 15 yards.
In a further foray forward from Alba, Andoni Iraola was given his marching orders for a second yellow card after 66 minutes.
Five minutes from the end a penalty was given for a handball by San Jose and Soldado made no mistake from 12 yards.
Levante moved up to fourth with an injury time goal from Xavi Torres giving them a 1-0 win over Villarreal who afterwards sacked coach Jose Francisco Molina after less than four months in charge.
Radamel Falcao scored a delightful chip but missed a penalty as Atletico Madrid’s European ambitions suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat away to Mallorca and they are now three points off sixth place.
After a slow first-half, a Gonzalo Castro shot was turned into his own goal by the unlucky Diego Godin and then just two minutes later Michael Pereira doubled Mallorca’s advantage.
The visitors were given a lifeline when an Adrian Lopez cross was handled on the line by Ivan Ramis, leading to the defender’s expulsion and a penalty.
But a woeful spot-kick from Falcao went straight to keeper Dudu Aouate.
Atletico poured forward and Falcao partly made amends with an excellent lob from the edge of the area which went in off the crossbar.