x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Real Madrid pressure pays off

Gareth Bale made his return in a 2-0 win over Malaga while Bayern and PSG were also victors in Saturday action across Europe.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a spot kick in stoppage time on Saturday for Real Madrid. Andres Kudacki / AP
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a spot kick in stoppage time on Saturday for Real Madrid. Andres Kudacki / AP

Gareth Bale got his first taste of being on a winning side at the Santiago Bernabeu with Real Madrid in a 2-0 win over Malaga on Saturday.

After Angel di Maria’s intended cross had found the back of the net to give Madrid the lead just after half-time, the Welshman was introduced for the final 13 minutes on his return from a thigh injury.

And it was Bale who was brought down by Weligton in stoppage time to allow Cristiano Ronaldo to seal the three points from the penalty spot.

It was a much improved all round performance from Madrid, who were only denied a far more comfortable margin of victory due to a series of wonderful saves by Malaga keeper Willy Caballero.

“The game today was good, I liked the attitude of the team. We defended well, were more aggressive and compact,” said Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.

“We had opportunities to score more goals and I hope in the games to come we can maintain the same intensity.”

The victory was a fine start to a hugely important week for Madrid as they host Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday before facing Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Bale had been kept in reserve from the start due to his lack of match practice, but Ancelotti believes he will be ready to play 90 minutes later in the week.

“He could start, it is an option that we have, I don’t think he will have any problems playing from the start. We will see what happens, but we have three days to make a decision.”

And Ancelotti also confirmed that the French international duo of Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane should be fit in time to face Juventus.

In Benzema’s absence due to a calf injury, Alvaro Morata started up front and the Spanish under-21 international was highly involved in the first period as Madrid did everything but score.

Ronaldo saw a curling effort come off the top of the bar after just seven minutes and then ought to have opened the scoring when he skewed wide with just Caballero to beat.

Morata headed straight at the Malaga keeper from Di Maria’s cross and Caballero was again called into action by Ronaldo as the pressure continued to build.

The opener did finally arrive less than 60 seconds after the interval in somewhat fortuitous circumstances as Ronaldo just failed to get on the end of Di Maria’s cross but the ball sailed into the far corner in any case.

Isco should have doubled the advantage moments later against his old club, but Caballero got down well to parry his effort to safety.

Morata then saw a glancing header flash between Ronaldo and the far post from Isco’s corner and the Portuguese saw a free-kick clawed away by Caballero as the hosts looked to put the game to bed.

And the hosts were nearly made to pay for their profligacy when substitute Bobley Anderson’s fierce effort flew inches past Diego Lopez’s left hand post with 13 minutes remaining.

Ronaldo was denied again by Caballero when it seemed easier to score four minutes later and the Argentine produced his best save yet seconds afterwards to turn Jese Rodriguez’s sweetly struck effort behind.

However, he was powerless to stop Ronaldo’s perfect penalty deep into stoppage time after Bale had induced a reckless challenge from Weligton inside the area.

In other Spanish action, Atletico Madrid suffered their first loss in falling away to Espanol 1-0. Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois suffered an own goal at 54 minutes and it proved the lone score of the match. Espanyol moved into fifth with the three points. Real Sociedad also topped Valencia 2-1.

Germany

Bayern Munich were given a scare before they beat Mainz 4-1 to remain at the top of the Bundesliga. Shawn Parker’s goal saw Bayern trail at the interval. But any fears of an upset subsided after the restart as Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller netted. Mario Mandzukic added a third before Muller scored a fourth. Second-placed Borussia Dortmund remain a point behind after beating Hannover 1-0, thanks to Marco Reus’s penalty. Schalke jumped to fifth with a 3-2 win over Eintracht Braunschweig. They trailed 2-1 after Karim Bellarabi scored for Eintracht just before the hour mark but Leon Goretzka netted in the 65th minute and Roman Neustadter sent home the winner in extra time. Hertha Berlin continued to fight for a Champions League qualifying spot, holding fourth place with a 1-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach. Adrian Ramos’s first-half goal was enough for Hertha. Werder Bremen also drew with SC Freiburg 0-0 and Frankfurt and Nurnberg locked up at 1-1.

Italy

AC Milan found a 22nd-minute goal from Valter Birsa and it wound up being all they needed in topping Udinese 1-0. Milan needed the three points just to keep pace with the collection of clubs they sit behind. With 11 points from eight matches now, they sit in seventh, behind top-three Roma, Napoli and Juventus as well as Inter, Hellas Verona and Fiorentina. Cagliari also beat relegation candidates Catania 2-1.

France

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani both scored twice for Paris-St Germain in their 4-0 win over Bastia as the Ligue 1 champions went to the top of the table, at least for 24 hours. If Monaco win at Sochaux today by two or more goals, then Claudio Ranieri’s side will retake the top spot they had going into the weekend. In other French play, Nantes gained on Lille in the race for third place, topping AC Ajaccio 1-0 while Lille fell to Montpellier by the same score. American Alejandro Bedoya scored the 87th-minute strike for Nantes to bring them within a point of Lille.

Scotland

Substitute James Forrest struck 14 minutes from time to salvage a point for Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic as they drew 1-1 at Hibernian. Paul Heffernan had given the hosts a contentious lead, and Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, said of the result: “Our reaction to what was clearly an offside goal was fantastic.”