MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid continued their serene progress under new coach Zinedine Zidane when Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema each helped themselves to two goals in a 5-1 drubbing of La Liga strugglers Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Real hammered Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 last weekend on Zidane’s debut and Sunday’s dismantling of Gijon, who are second from bottom, lifted them above champions Barcelona into second place on 43 points from 20 matches, one behind leaders Atletico Madrid.
Atletico play at Las Palmas later on Sunday, when Barca, who are a point behind Real in third and have a game in hand over their main rivals, host eighth-placed Athletic Bilbao.
Real tore into promoted Gijon at the Bernabeu and were 4-0 ahead inside the first 20 minutes as Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Benzema, collectively known in Spain as “BBC”, ran riot.
Bale headed in a Toni Kroos corner in the seventh minute and Ronaldo smashed in a second after some poor Gijon defending two minutes later.
Bale crossed for Benzema to score with an acrobatic volley in the 12th minute, Ronaldo turned in a Dani Carvajal centre in the 18th and Benzema got his second to make it 5-0 four minutes before the break after neat work from playmaker Isco.
Gijon pulled a goal back in the 62nd minute when some slack marking allowed Ismael Lopez time and space to clip a smart finish into the bottom corner.
Ronaldo, who was lucky to escape a red card when he kicked out at Gijon midfielder Nacho Cases shortly after halftime, and Benzema top the scoring charts with 16 goals apiece, one ahead of Barca pair Neymar and Luis Suarez. Bale has 13.
It was another morale-boosting performance from the world’s richest club by income following the sacking of the unpopular Rafa Benitez, under whom they failed to impress against any of their main rivals in Spain and Europe.
The victory may have come at a cost, however, as Bale was forced off with an apparent calf injury late in the first half and Benzema limped out with around 25 minutes left after hurting his foot in a collision with team mate James Rodriguez.
Gary Neville’s disappointing start as Valencia coach continued when the ambitious Singapore-owned club drew 2-2 at home to lowly Rayo Vallecano, prompting more rumblings of discontent from the fans.
Neville, who took over when Nuno Espirito Santo was discarded last month, has overseen six games without a win in Spain’s top division, with four draws and two defeats leaving the team mired down in 10th place.
Valencia risk missing out on a lucrative berth in continental competition for next season, the least they would have expected before the start of the campaign.
Midfielder Jozabed Sanchez put Rayo ahead in the 15th minute at the Mestalla with a superb first-time strike that flew past goalkeeper Mathew Ryan into the net.
Alvaro Negredo conjured a moment of genius to level 10 minutes into the second half when the former Spain striker won the ball near the halfway line and sent a snap shot arrowing over Rayo keeper Juan Carlos Martin.
The goal lifted the home side but they were rocked back again when poor defending at a 69th-minute corner allowed Rayo defender Diego Llorente to hook the ball high past Ryan.
A fluffed clearance by Rayo defender Ze Castro let substitute Paco Alcacer in to bundle the ball home and rescue a point two minutes from time.
Valencia have 24 points, eight points off the European qualification places. Rayo are third from bottom on 16 points.
(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Pritha Sarkar)