Madrid, Feb 22: Real Madrid moved four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 win at Elche. After passing up a host of chances in the first-half, Madrid finally made the breakthrough when Karim Benzema tapped home from close range 11 minutes into the second period.
Cristiano Ronaldo then sealed the three points when he bulleted home a header from Isco's pin-point cross 21 minutes from time yesterday. Barca's shock 1-0 defeat to Malaga on Saturday means the Catalans have it all to do in the final 14 games of the season with the two sides set to meet at the Camp Nou on March 22.
"I think the defeat surprised everyone because Barcelona were in great form," said Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.
"It is clear we have the advantage at the moment, but as I have said many times this league will be decided in the final game."
Madrid started brightly at the Martinez Valero and should have been well in front by half-time. Gareth Bale had an early strike ruled out for offside before Ronaldo smashed an effort from 20 yards off the post.
The World Player of the Year then passed up a huge chance when he miscued with the goal gaping from Bale's low cross. Another effort from Ronaldo, this time with his head from Toni Kroos's free-kick, flew just wide as the pressure built.
And the visitors were unfortunate not to be ahead in stunning fashion when Benzema's overhead kick was also chopped off for the tightest of offside calls.
Madrid captain Iker Casillas was making his 500th La Liga appearance, but had barely touched the ball until he had to make a smart low save to his right to deny Aaron Niguez two minutes after the break.
Niguez was lucky to stay on the pitch moments later when he only saw a yellow card for a horrific challenge on Bale that fortunately the Welshman was able to shake off.
Villarreal are now just points behind Sevilla
Carlo Ancelotti's men finally got the break that had deserted them early in the game on 56 minutes when David Lomban's clearance from Ronaldo's low cross bounced off Elche 'keeper Przemyslaw Tyton and into the path of Benzema to slot into an empty net. Ronaldo then ended his three-game goalless streak in La Liga with a wonderful header from Isco's fine cross to put the game to bed.
Earlier, David Moyes's Real Sociedad struck twice in the final 10 minutes to come from behind and seal a thrilling 4-3 win over Sevilla at Anoeta. The hosts had got off to an ideal start as Imanol Agirretxe slotted home the opener after 16 minutes, but Timothee Kolodziejczak levelled for the Europa League holders before the break.
Sociedad were then gifted a soft penalty at the start of the second period, which Xabi Prieto converted, but Sevilla responded once more when their top scorer Carlos flicked home Ever Banega's free-kick.
Sevilla then looked set to go on and claim a vital three points in their battle for a return to Champions League football next season when Kevin Gameiro scored from the spot after a handball by Inigo Martinez inside the area.
However, there was a final twist as Sociedad equalised when Alejandro Arribas turned the ball into his own net before Prieto flicked home a corner at the near post as the game entered stoppage time.
Defeat means Sevilla still trail Valencia by five points in the fight for fourth place, while Sociedad jump three places to 10th and are now eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Villarreal are now just a point behind Sevilla in sixth after substitute Luciano Vietto scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Eibar. Athletic Bilbao were also 1-0 victors over Rayo Vallecano thanks to Aritz Aduriz's strike four minutes from time.