Real Madrid needed goals from Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Karim Benzema to beat a determined Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 and ensure it remained the Spanish league leader on Saturday.
Eager to make up for its humiliating 4-0 loss at Atletico Madrid in the last round, Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale both hit the goalframe before Isco opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.
“It was difficult after the blow we received last week,” Isco said. “But this team has bounced back from worse situations. A dose of humility served us well.”
Fragile in defense, Deportivo remained dangerous going forward and was stopped only by the woodwork and Iker Casillas’ goalkeeping.
Madrid had yet to muster a shot on goal in the second half when Benzema secured the result in the 73rd, two minutes after Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva made his Madrid debut as a substitute.
“It wasn’t an easy match, we played well, but only during stretches,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We had difficulties after a peculiar and complicated week, but pulled out a victory that should put us back on track.”
Madrid leads Barcelona by a provisional four points. The Catalan club hosts Levante on Sunday when defending champion Atletico, trailing the pacesetters by seven, visits Celta Vigo.
Sevilla beat Cordoba 3-0 in a one-sided match in Seville, where both teams ended with 10 men, giving it overnight control of fourth place. Cordoba fell into last place after 10-man Granada drew 0-0 at home with Athletic Bilbao.
Espanyol also finished a man down but goalkeeper Kiko Casilla saved a late penalty in a 2-0 victory at Malaga, as both stayed in the upper half of the standings.
Ronaldo spent the week being heavily criticized for celebrating his 30th birthday party in a club after Madrid’s stunning rout at Atletico in the capital derby that same night. But other than his shot off the crossbar, the Ballon d’Or winner continued to perform below the high standard he set during a spectacular 2014.
Madrid has been plagued by slow starts since the winter break, and Saturday’s game at the Santiago Bernabeu was no exception.
Deportivo, which had lost only once in its previous six rounds as it rose to the middle of the table, attacked Madrid’s second-choice center back pair of Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez, starting for the injured Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Forward Isaac Cuenca drew a reflex save from Casillas in the sixth, and moments later rifled another strike just over the bar.
“We played better than they did,” Deportivo manager Victor Fernandez said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t make our work in midfield pay off in goals.”
Settling in, Madrid intercepted passes that led to a steady stream of opportunities, with Ronaldo and Bale both hitting the crossbar before a shot by Benzema trickled wide.
Madrid appeared to have squandered another scoring chance when Benzema sent Bale’s pass bouncing across the goalmouth, but Alvaro Arbeloa saved the ball from going out and spotted Isco alone near the edge of the area. Isco did the rest by sizing up the goal, and curling home a beautiful right-footed strike for a deserved lead.
Deportivo emerged the more energized side after halftime. Celso Borges hit the post in the 49th, seconds before striker Oriol Riera drew another save from Casillas with his well-taken header.
But Arbeloa again was the surprising playmaker to spark Madrid’s stalled attack when his lobbed pass behind Deportivo’s high defensive line left Ronaldo free to set up Benzema, who chipped in the ball.
Sevilla remained the only undefeated home side in the league. Cordoba’s Patrick Ekeng and Krychowiak earned direct red cards for kicking opponents. Granada’s Emanuel Insua also saw red in the match against Bilbao.
Espanyol center back Diego Colotto drew the night’s fourth and final red card after going on late to help defend the team’s one-goal lead from Alvaro Gonzalez’s first-half header. Three minutes later, he used his hand to push a strike onto the bar in the 82nd, but Casilla bailed him out by blocking Nordin Amrabat’s spot kick. Sergio Garcia sealed the win in stoppage time.