Cristiano Ronaldo converted a first-half penalty to lead Real Madrid to a 3-1 win at last-place Levante in the Spanish league, keeping his team third in the standings.
Ronaldo scored from the spot in the 34th minute for his 23rd league goal of the season. An own goal by Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino added to the lead in the 38th and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon sealed the victory in second-half injury time.
Brazilian striker Deyverson scored Levante’s goal in the 39th. The victory helped Madrid rebound from a disappointing home loss to rival Atletico Madrid, a result that virtually ended the team’s title hopes.
It has 57 points with 11 games to go, four points behind second-place Atletico, which defeated Real Sociedad 3-0 at home on Tuesday, and nine less than leader Barcelona.
Real Madrid opened four points ahead of fourth-place Villarreal, which was held to a 0-0 draw at sixth-place Celta Vigo. Madrid is looking to at least secure third in the standings, which guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season without having to play in the qualifying round.
It was Madrid’s first victory in three games, and the sixth since coach Zinedine Zidane took over the squad nine rounds ago.
“We want commitment,” Zidane said. “We need all players giving everything that they have. I’m happy with what I saw today.”
Missing several regular starters including Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, Madrid struggled to impose its game. It controlled possession at the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium, but the hosts had chances to earn at least a draw.
Ronaldo missed a penalty against Malaga two rounds ago, but struck the net with a firm low shot on Wednesday after youngster Lucas Vazquez was fouled inside the area.
It was the eighth goal in seven matches for Ronaldo, who sparked a controversy after the loss to Atletico by saying that Madrid could be in first place if everyone else in the squad was at his level.
“This is in the past, we talked about it and we are all on the same boat,” Madrid defender Pepe said. “We have to keep working hard to honor this jersey.”