Barcelona under pressure after home win for Real Madrid

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MADRID - Real Madrid moved within two points of Spanish leaders Barcelona Saturday with a comfortable 2-0 home defeat of lowly Levante, with first-half goals from Karim Benzema and Ricardo Carvalho.

Jose Mourinho’s team now have 60 points from 24 games. Barcelona, who receive fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao Sunday, have 62 from 23.

The Portuguese coach said: “I liked the game because of our seriousness. We managed to go ahead early, and we achieved our objective of giving a rest to some important players.”

With his mind Tuesday’s Champions League visit to Lyon, Mourinho rested midfielders Xabi Alonso and Mesut Oezil, plus defender Pepe.

Benzema, making a rare start, opened the scoring after just seven minutes with a left-foot finish from close range, on an excellent centre from lively winger Angel Di Maria.

Carvalho, who has surprisingly scored four goals this season, made it 2-0 four minutes before half-time with a simple tap-in, after the overworked Levante defence had made a mess of a free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo - who is joint top scorer with Barca’s Lionel Messi - was foiled six times by Levante’s veteran keeper Gustavo Munua, who was far and away his team’s best player.

Real understandably eased up after the interval, which caused a dull second half which both teams wanted to finish as quickly as possible. The whites have won all of their home matches, partly due to the timidity and low expectations of most visiting teams.

Levante stay fifth from bottom, level on 24 points with Sporting Gijon, who earlier Saturday had few problems in battling out a 0-0 draw away to dull Valencia.

The disappointing draw kept Valencia in third place, with 48 points from 24 games. They are 12 points behind Real but three ahead of local rivals Villarreal, who receive bottom team Malaga Sunday.

Valencia looked mentally and physically weary after Tuesday’s Champions League 1-1 draw against Schalke 04, and turned in a disjointed display. It was enough for Gijon to defend in depth with good order and common sense.

The closest that the hosts came to breaking the deadlock was at the end, when Gijon keeper Ivan Cuellar - who had enjoyed a surprisingly tranquil evening - had to make saves from South Americans Tino Costa and Jonas.

Valencia coach Unai Emery said: “It is true that we were short of freshness in attack, and should have moved the ball with more speed and clarity. However, I was pleased with the improvements we made in defence.”

Valencia striker Aritz Aduriz suffered a badly sprained left ankle and will be out of action for around four weeks.

In Saturday’s late game, Atletico Madrid ended their crisis with a 1-0 win away to lowly Zaragoza. It was their first win in five matches and relieves the pressure on embattled coach Quique Sanchez Flores.

The only goal in La Romareda was put away by Sergio Aguero in the 66th minute, from a tight angle on the right. Luckless Zaragoza hit the crossbar twice in a frenetic finale.

Atletico are now seventh, Zaragoza stay fifth from bottom, with one point less than Levante and Gijon.

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