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Cristiano Ronaldo was at his sharpest today, scoring a brace as Real Madrid recovered from their Nou Camp mauling with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over ten-man Valencia at the Bernabeu.
The impressive Ronaldo, who had been struggling with an ankle injury in the build-up to the game, netted in the 73rd and 87th minutes after Valencia had lost midfielder David Albelda to a second booking earlier in the second half. The victory, which made it seven out of seven at home for Madrid this season, keeps Jose Mourinho's men two points behind Barcelona, who beat Osasuna earlier in the evening.
Madrid were without three key players for tonight's game against Valencia - Gonzalo Higuain injured and Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho suspended - and the capital club took a while to get into their stride. Valencia created the first chance in a low-key first half when, in the 12th minute, former Madrid youngster Juan Mata drew a good low save out of Iker Casillas. From the resulting corner Roberto Soldado, another ex-Madrid product, escaped from marker Pepe but fired over at the front post.
Madrid's only serious efforts in the opening half-hour came from Angel Di Maria and Ronaldo, whose shots should have been comfortable for Vicente Guaita but the third-choice Valencia goalkeeper allowed both to squirm away from him. That would have done little to settle the 23-year-old custodian's nerves on a rare appearance for Los Che, but he would have felt a lot better in the 35th minute when he came out on top in a one-on-one with Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira. That chance sparked an improved spell from Madrid, who almost scored with a superb breakaway before Guaita parried Mesut Ozil's free-kick.
The closest either side would come in the first half, though, arrived right on the stroke of half-time when Ronaldo's audacious back-heel rebounded off the far post. That was the last action of the first half, but Madrid picked up where they left off after the break with Guaita doing superbly to deny Ronaldo, Di Maria and substitute Karim Benzema in the opening 15 minutes.
At the other end Valencia were still causing a few problems going forward and Soldado should have done better with a free header on the hour. Madrid received a big boost in the 65th minute when veteran Valencia midfielder Albelda was sent off for a second yellow after being adjudged to have handled the ball near the halfway line.
It took Madrid just eight minutes to make their numerical advantage count, Ozil slipping in Ronaldo down the left before the Portugal international smashed a left-footed shot past Guaita. Di Maria almost made it 2-0 soon after before Valencia gave their hosts a scare when Tino Costa tested Casillas and Joaquin Sanchez saw his follow-up shot deflected inches wide.
Ronaldo ensured the points would be staying in Madrid, though, as he doubled his side's lead just before the end. Lassana Diarra robbed Valencia of possession inside Madrid's half before feeding the ball to Ronaldo, who ran from halfway, wrong-footed Ricardo Costa before slamming an unstoppable shot past Guaita for his league-leading 16th goal of the season.
Barcelona stay top, Atletico sink further
Barcelona were forced to focus despite a hastily-arranged five-hour train and coach journey to Osasuna on Saturday. The defending champions kept their composure despite the matchday disarray winning 3-0to stay top of the table, two points clear of Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, saw their poor form continue with a 2-0 loss at Levante. It was a third successive loss for the UEFA Europa League champions, following 3-2 home defeats by Espanyol and Greek side Aris Salonika and the club now lie in seventh place.