x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Real Madrid keep the heat on leaders Barcelona

First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Ricardo Carvalho against Levante moves Real Madrid to within two points of the Primera Liga leaders.

Real Madrid are on a charge after chalking up another home win.
Real Madrid are on a charge after chalking up another home win.

MADRID // Real Madrid provisionally cut Barcelona's lead at the top of the Primera Division table to two points by seeing off Levante 2-0 at a rain-drenched Bernabeu.

First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Ricardo Carvalho decided the game as Jose Mourinho's men kept the pressure up on pacesetters Barca, who host Athletic Bilbao today.

Benzema scored Madrid's sixth-minute opener after a great individual effort from Angel Di Maria, with Carvalho sealed the win four minutes before half-time.

The win also extended coach Jose Mourinho's nine-year unbeaten league run at home. The last time the former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager lost at his home ground was when FC Porto fell to Beira Mar 3-2 on February 23 2002.

The Portuguese manager had said before the game that his record was not important. He also played down the significance of closing the gap on Barca.

"The truth is that the pressure is on the team in second place, not the leader," he said.

With the first leg of their Champions League last 16 match against Lyon set for Tuesday, Mourinho rested Xabi Alonso, Pepe and Emmanuel Adebayor, who came on late as a substitute. Goalkeeper Antonio Adan also made his first start in Spain's top division with the Real captain Iker Casillas serving a one-game suspension.

Even though Madrid had routed Levante 8-0 in their last meeting in the Spanish capital in the Copa del Rey, Levante had drawn with Real in their first league fixture and won the second-leg of their Copa del Rey match, making the minnows one of just three teams to beat Mourinho's squad this campaign.

Luis Garcia's team had also won a club record three straight games, but Real quickly banished any thoughts of an upset.

Benzema, who had lost his spot in the starting XI with Adebayor's arrival in January from Manchester City, wasted little time in putting the hosts ahead when Di Maria dribbled through three defenders before crossing for the France striker to redirect into goal.

"Our rival was organised in defence, but scoring early gave us more control of the game," Mourinho said.

Cristiano Ronaldo grazed the top of the goal with a header in the 16th, and Gustavo Munua, the Levante goalkeeper, made two excellent saves from shots by Di Maria and Benzema in the 22nd and 24th as the hosts pressed to put the game away.

But it was Carvalho who slid unmarked into the six-yard box to stab home Ronaldo's free-kick after Di Maria was fouled on the left edge of the box.

Munua denied Real a third goal with back-to-back saves from a header by Ronaldo and a hard volley by Benzema in the 65th.

Ronaldo kept firing away, but Munua was there to block the Portuguese forward's two clear attempts late in the contest.

Elsewhere, Valencia drew 0-0 with Sporting Gijon, and Sergio Aguero gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win at Real Zaragoza.

After a disappointing draw with Schalke in the Champions League midweek, Valencia dominated possession but could not convert any chances to be held scoreless for the first time at the Mestalla this season.

"It is true we were not fresh," Unai Emery, the Valencia coach, said. "We did not move the ball enough and we did not have precision in our one-on-one situations."

Valencia remain undefeated in 10 games, but is only three points clear of fourth-place Villarreal.

Valencia's top goal scorer, Aritz Aduriz, injured his ankle in the second-half and Jonas Goncalves, the Brazilian striker, who joined the team in the transfer window, debuted for Valencia as his substitute.

At La Romareda stadium, Atletico created multiple scoring chances early, but Leo Franco, the Zaragoza goalkeeper, kept a clean sheet until Aguero broke through in the 66th.

The Argentina forward used his speed to beat his marker and fired past Franco for his eighth goal of the season. He later had to be substituted for with an apparent thigh injury.

Ikechuwku Uche returned to the pitch for Zaragoza as a second-half substitute after being sidelined for a year and a half with a knee injury.

The Nigerian striker came close to equalising in the 88th minute when his shot hit the crossbar, and teammate Nicolas Bertolo was also denied by the woodwork moments later.

The win ended Atletico's streak of four straight defeats and lifted it to within four points of the Europa League positions.