BARCELONA, Jan 30, 2010 (AFP) - A delightful back-heel from Jose Maria Gutierrez set up Karim Benzema for the first of a brace as Real Madrid, without suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, beat Deportivo La Coruna 3-1 on Saturday.
The win kept Real five points behind Barcelona who had earlier defeated Sporting Gijon 1-0 to stay top of La Liga in a game which also saw the champions reach the 50-goal mark for the league season.
|Real Madrid's players celebrate after scoring against Deportivo Coruna during a Spanish league football match at the Riazor Stadium in La Coruna on January 30, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
Esteban Granero headed Real ahead after 13 minutes with the game played out in the home side's half at the Riazor where the Madrid giants had not won for almost 20 years.
With Felipe Luis injured, Manuel Pablo moved to the left-hand side and the defence never looked comfortable especially against the pace of Benzema.
Raul Gonzalez had the chance to add to the lead with a close-range volley before a moment of real quality from Guti.
Through on goal instead of shooting on his weaker right foot, he back-heeled the ball into the path of Benzema to slot home.
Deportivo had their chances in the second half as Real took their foot off the gas and in a late rally Ivan Riki scored a penalty. The last word though was from Benzema who wrapped up the scoring in injury time.
"We went out to get the result from the very start even though this was not a win at all costs game. We knew how to deal with an important match against a good side," said Real coach Manuel Pellegrini.
"I am very happy with the win because it was in a stadium which traditionally has been a difficult place to come for Real Madrid and also because we played well, although it did get a bit tight at the end."
Barcelona stayed top after Pedro Rodriguez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Sporting Gijon.
Mate Bilic went close with a header for the home side before Pedro put the visitors ahead with a clinical finish from a defence-breaking through ball by Andres Iniesta on the 30-minute mark.
"This is a good result for us because we played in a stadium where very few teams have won," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
"My only regret is that is that we did not make the right decisions in the final moments of the game that would have made the result a lot more comfortable."
Sporting coach Manolo Preciado though felt that the free-kick that led up to Barca's goal was not correctly taken.
"That goal was first of all an error from the referee and then from us but this is part of football, sometimes it goes for you and others not," he said.
A Luis Garcia strike saw Espanyol overcome Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in a scrappy match to give them breathing space at the bottom of La Liga earlier Saturday.
The home side dominated from the start a match in which injury-hit Athletic were never able to get into their stride.
The Athletic keeper Gorka Iraizoz made a couple of important interventions in the first half but he was powerless to block Garcia's close-range winner on 58 minutes after good work from Javi Marquez down the left wing.
The result moves Espanyol six points clear of the relegation zone but for Athletic, who are chasing a place in Europe, they have now lost back-to-back games.
Despite only managing a draw away to lowly Tenerife, Valencia are well placed to qualify for the Champions League but on Sunday they face a crucial game against fellow aspirants Sevilla who have dropped off the pace since Christmas after losing three of their last four matches.