BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid needed goals from Francisco "Isco" Alarcon and Karim Benzema to beat a determined Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 Saturday and ensure it remained Spanish league leader.
Eager to make up for its humiliating 4-0 loss at Atletico Madrid in the last round, Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale both hit the goalframe before Isco opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Fragile in defense, Deportivo remained dangerous going forward and was only stopped by the woodwork and Iker Casillas' goalkeeping.
Madrid had yet to muster a shot on goal in the second half when Benzema secured the result in the 73rd, two minutes after Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva made his Madrid debut as a substitute.
"It wasn't an easy match, we played well but only during stretches," said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. "We had difficulties after a peculiar and complicated week but pulled out a victory that should put us back on track."
Madrid leads Barcelona by a provisional four points. The Catalan club hosts Levante on Sunday when defending champion Atletico, trailing the pacesetters by seven, visits Celta Vigo.
Earlier, Sevilla beat Cordoba 3-0 in a one-sided match where both teams ended with 10 men, giving it overnight control of fourth place. Valencia can reclaim the last Champions League spot by beating Getafe on Sunday.
Ronaldo had spent the week being heavily criticized for celebrating his 30th birthday party in a club after Madrid's stunning rout at Atletico in the capital derby earlier in the same night. But other than his shot off the crossbar, the Ballon d'Or winner continued to perform below the high standard he set during a spectacular 2014.
Madrid has been plagued by slow starts since the winter break, and Saturday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu was no exception.
Deportivo, which had only lost once in its previous six rounds as it rose to the middle of the table, attacked Madrid's second-choice center back pair of Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez, starting for the injured Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Forward Isaac Cuenca drew a reflex save from Casillas in the sixth and moments later rifled another strike just over the bar.
"We played better than they did," said Deportivo manager Victor Fernandez. "They have athletes that play football very well. It's a shame we couldn't make our work in midfield pay off in goals."
Settling in, Madrid intercepted a series of passes that led to a steady stream of opportunities, with Ronaldo and Bale both hitting the crossbar before a shot by Benzema trickled wide.
Madrid appeared to have squandered another scoring chance when Benzema sent Bale's pass bouncing across the goalmouth, but Alvaro Arbeloa saved the ball from going out and spotted Isco alone near the edge of the area. Isco did the rest by sizing up the goal and curling home a beautiful right-footed strike for a deserved lead.
Deportivo emerged the more energized side after halftime. Celso Borges hit the post in the 49th, seconds before striker Oriol Riera drew another save from Casillas with his well taken header.
But Arbeloa again was the surprising playmaker to spark Madrid's stalled attack when his lobbed pass behind Deportivo's high defensive line left Ronaldo free to set up Benzema, who chipped in the ball.
Madrid's injury problems may have mounted, however, after Marcelo ended the game with a knock on his right ankle.
Madrid visits Schalke on Wednesday in the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 series.
Espanyol visits Malaga later, while Athletic Bilbao is at Granada.