BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — James Rodriguez scored a stunning goal to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Almeria on Wednesday that kept his side two points behind leader Barcelona in the final stretch of the Spanish league title race.
Rodriguez snapped Madrid out of its lethargic first-half performance by volleying home a long-range strike seconds before the break at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Almeria defender Mauro Dos Santos deflected a pass meant for Cristiano Ronaldo into his own goal in the 49th, and defender Alvaro Arbeloa sealed the win from Javier Hernandez's pass six minutes from time.
With four rounds left, Madrid next faces a tough visit at Sevilla on Saturday, while Barcelona plays at last-place Cordoba. Then both title rivals will turn to first-leg semifinals in the Champions League when Madrid visits Juventus and Barcelona hosts Bayern Munich next week.
"We are now in a very important period of the season, and each game is important," Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "I will field the best lineup I can at Sevilla, even though we will then play at Juventus because it will be the match that matters the most."
Sevilla extended its undefeated streak to 10 rounds after Carlos Bacca and Jose Antonio Reyes shone in its 3-1 win at Eibar on Wednesday.
An audacious solo effort by Fernando Torres' gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win at Villarreal as the soon-to-be dethroned titleholders kept their hold on third place.
Celta Vigo needed Manuel "Nolito" Agudo's 89th-minute winner to edge Malaga 1-0 at home, while Elche's fans enjoyed a convincing 4-0 victory over struggling Deportivo La Coruna.
Playing without the injured Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, Ancelotti said that Bale may return to training on Thursday and he hopes Benzema will be ready for Juventus.
Madrid looked set to take the stalemate into halftime when Rodriguez rushed forward to pounce on a clearance that fell outside the area and smashed a blistering strike over goalkeeper Ruben Martinez.
It was the Colombia midfielder's 16th goal in his first season with the defending European champions.
Madrid's dip in form early this year that cost it the league lead to Barcelona came when Rodriguez was sidelined with a fractured right foot. Without him, Ancelotti's team had four wins, one draw and four losses. Since his return, it has won seven games and drawn one, with Rodriguez scoring four times in the last five rounds.
At Villarreal, Torres went on as a second-half substitute and showed a flash of his younger self in the 74th when he stole possession from Eric Bailly, surged into the area, rounded goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and left both Bailly and Victor Ruiz on the turf before firing home.
Asenjo later had an injury scare when his right leg buckled, but he managed to walk off when substituted.
Reyes set Sevilla on its way in the seventh minute at Eibar with a superb pass that left Bacca alone to dribble goalie Xabi Irureta before tapping the ball home.
Bacca then added his 19th league goal of the season in the 15th.
Federico Piovaccari pulled one back for the Basque side in the 51st, only for Bacca to assist Reyes in the 64th.
Sevilla moved into fourth place and the last Champions League spot, one point ahead of Valencia before it plays at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.
Eibar, which has only one win in its last 16 games, was left level on points with Almeria just above Deportivo in the relegation zone.
Elche took a big step to ensuring it stays up by climbing into 13th place after Jonathas, David Lomban, Mario Palasic and Garry Rodrigues scored against Deportivo.