Real Madrid rallies against Zaragoza
Three days after Barcelona ended its Copa del Rey title defense, Real Madrid came from behind to beat last-place Zaragoza 3-1 on Saturday as its campaign rolled on to break its fierce rival's hold on the Spanish league title.
Three-time defending champion Barcelona finds itself trailing the league leader by eight points heading into its game at Villarreal later.
Zaragoza, which upset Madrid at home late last season, started well with Angel Lafita scoring an 11th-minute opener.
But Kaka leveled for Madrid in the 32nd, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Oezil added two more shortly after halftime at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Madrid has won nine of 10 league home games this season, with its only home loss to Barcelona in December.
"Every game is tough. Zaragoza is a good team and they showed it with a quick goal,'' Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero said. "But we gave it our all and were able to turn it around.''
After his team's strong performance in its closely fought elimination by Barcelona on Wednesday, Madrid coach Jose Mourinho opted again for an attack-minded starting 11 with rarely used Granero and Kaka in midfield behind Oezil and scoring pair Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
Madrid, however, started sluggish with Benzema sending a header well wide before Zaragoza grabbed an unexpected lead.
Lafita, who netted a double in Zaragoza's 3-2 surprise win at Madrid last April, redirected recent signing Carlos Aranda's short cross into the back of the net as the visitors caught Madrid a step slow on a free kick taken quickly by Luis Garcia.
"Their goal was our fault,'' Granero said. "We should have been more aware.''
Madrid dominated possession as it looked for the equalizer which came through Kaka in the 32nd. The former AC Milan star ran onto Ricardo Carvalho's excellent throughball down the left side of the area and slotted under goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez.
Once it had shaken off its slow start, Madrid had little trouble strolling to victory.
Madrid went ahead for good in the 49th when Granero played Oezil wide on the right flank, and the Germany midfielder placed a cross behind the defense for Ronaldo to tap in and take his league-leading tally to 24 goals.
Oezil gave Madrid a two-goal cushion in the 56th with a left-footed rising blast after Kaka set him up inside the left side of the box.
Zaragoza, which rarely approached Madrid's area, remained winless in its last 13 league games. This was its first loss under new coach Manolo Jimenez after back-to-back draws since taking over for former manager Javier Aguirre.
Elsewhere, Fernando Llorente scored a hat trick to give Athletic Bilbao a 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano in a back-and-forth game in the Spanish capital.
After Miguel "Michu'' Perez's opener for Rayo, Llorente headed in a free kick to level in the 16th minute, and added a second when he controlled a pass with his chest, spun and fired from the edge of the area in the 23rd.
Alejandro Arribas drew Rayo even moments later, but Llorente headed home Gaizka Toquero's cross for the 68th-minute winner and his 11th league goal of the season.
Bilbao, which plays third-tier Mirandes in the Copa del Rey semifinals this week, moved into sixth place.
Also, Espanyol edged 10-man Mallorca 1-0 to climb level on points with fourth-place Levante.
Mallorca goalkeeper Dudu Aouate had a tough day, first gifting Espanyol forward Vladimir Weiss the 18th-minute winner and then drawing a questionable direct red card for a tackle on Rui Fonte in the 47th.
On Sunday, it's: Real Betis vs. Granada, Real Sociedad vs. Sporting Gijon, Levante vs. Getafe, Racing Santander vs. Valencia, and Malaga vs. Sevilla.
Atletico Madrid is at Osasuna on Monday.