Real Madrid ended a turbulent week off the pitch on a high when Karim Benzema struck twice in a 4-1 victory over Getafe in La Liga on Saturday before leaders Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia.
Real’s dominant performance at the Bernabeu lifted them above Atletico Madrid into second for a couple of hours but Atletico responded with a 2-0 win at Granada before Santi Mina’s late strike rescued a point for Valencia with new coach Gary Neville watching from the stands.
Neville, who was appointed last week but will not officially take over until Sunday, saw plenty to impress as the home side recovered from falling behind to Luis Suarez’s 59th minute goal to stun the Spanish and European champions.
With 14 matches played, Barca lead on 34 points, two ahead of Atletico, with Real a further two points adrift in third.
Real were expelled from the King’s Cup on Friday after fielding an ineligible player in Wednesday’s last 32, first leg at third-tier Cadiz, the latest setback in a difficult few weeks for the world’s richest club by income.
Hammered 4-0 at home by bitter rivals Barca last month, Real needed a strong performance against city neighbours Getafe to relieve the pressure on coach Rafa Benitez.
Benitez, who took over from the sacked Carlo Ancelotti at the end of last season, was roundly whistled when his name was read out with the team lists before kickoff and there were more chants during the game calling for President Florentino Perez to step down.
France forward Benzema, whose legal problems have been another of Real’s off-field distractions, opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he volleyed in Pepe’s cross.
Benzema, who is under investigation over his alleged involvement in an attempt to blackmail France team mate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex video, added a second in the 16th minute with a low shot into the corner.
Gareth Bale made it 3-0 in the 35th after being set up by Cristiano Ronaldo, who put Real out of sight against a woeful Getafe when he finished off a swift break three minutes later.
It marked the first time this season Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo, collectively known as “BBC”, have scored in the same La Liga game.
Real eased off in the second half and Getafe defender Alexis Ruano pulled a goal back at a 70th-minute corner, prompting more whistles directed at their own team from some sections of the home crowd.
“The first half was a demonstration of the potential this team has,” Benitez told a news conference.
“The team controlled the game. They dropped the level of intensity (in the second half) because the work was done.”
Barca wasted a host of chances in the first half at Valencia, who were severely depleted by injuries and suspensions and are mired in mid table after an erratic season that prompted Monday’s sacking of coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
Suarez finally found the net when he raced onto a Lionel Messi pass and cracked the ball past goalkeeper Jaume Domenech from a tight angle.
It was the Uruguay striker’s eighth consecutive game on the scoresheet, during which he has rattled in 12 goals.
Valencia had barely troubled Barca keeper Claudio Bravo until Paco Alcacer fed Mina four minutes from time and he cracked a superb shot into the top corner to bring the home fans to their feet.
“We dominated the game but if you don’t take your chances you can get punished,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets told Spanish television. “It’s not a step back as we are still top and doing things very well.”
It was a morale-boosting success for Valencia ahead of their Champions League game at home to Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday, Neville’s first game in charge, when they must win to keep alive their chances of advancing to the last 16.SHOW MORE