May 2012. That was the last time Real Madrid sat atop the Liga table and although it may well have been for just 24 hours — Atlético and Barcelona were due to play on Sunday night — it was a considerable victory on a day of good cheer at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Cristiano Ronaldo presented his Ballon d’Or trophy to the home fans before the whistle and Real lined up with the same starting 11 for the third consecutive game; there is a momentum in place at the club that Carlo Ancelotti, the most fastidious tinkerer, wishes to keep on the field. The coach’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation has revolutionized Real and the team’s 2-0 win over visiting Granada brought up a record-equaling seven games without conceding a goal, last achieved in 1994-95.
True to form, Ronaldo stole the show with an acrobatic overhead effort at the end of a goalless first half during which Granada set out to play Real at its own game. But the Portuguese was not to be denied and his mastery of the ball allowed him to bewitch the visitor’s defense and fire in the opener from the edge of the area. Karim Benzema doubled Real’s advantage shortly afterward as Real confirmed its best run of form in quite some time.
By contrast, Betis’s misery continued as Celta thumped four past the table-propper to leave the Seville side 10 points adrift of safety. Valladolid also won, beating fifth-placed Villarreal 1-0 to put some daylight between the Castilian side and the struggling Andalusians. Rayo, sandwiched between the two in 19th, was to host Atlético on Sunday night. Villarreal’s loss gave Athletic the chance to establish itself firmly in fourth, which the Basque side duly did with a 1-5 victory at Osasuna. The Lions are now five points ahead of Villarreal in fifth.
Other results: Almería 1-0 Getafe; Valencia 2-2 Espanyol; Sevilla 2-3 Levante.