Cristiano Ronaldo's brace fires Real to second in La Liga
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -Cristiano Ronaldo ensured there was no letdown for Real Madrid after its win over Manchester United by scoring twice in a 2-1 victory at Celta Vigo on Sunday, lifting the team into second place in the Spanish league.
Madrid slipped one point ahead of Atletico Madrid in the standings after high-flying Real Sociedad ruined Atletico's perfect home record this season after 13 league games with a 1-0 win thanks to forward Xabi Prieto's second-half goal.
Except for Celta's initial and last-gasp surges, Madrid had the better of the scoring chances at Balaidos Stadium despite manager Jose Mourinho making several changes to his starting team following a week featuring wins over Barcelona and United.
Ronaldo was well positioned to score from a loose ball in the 61st minute. Striker Iago Aspas leveled against the run of play two minutes later, but the Portugal forward converted a spot kick earned by Kaka in the 72nd for the winner.
Celta substitute Park Chu-Young almost grabbed the draw when his header hit the bar one minute from time, but Madrid hung on for its sixth straight victory in all competitions.
Ronaldo has 26 league goals this season, second only to Barcelona forward Lionel Messi with 40.
Madrid trails Barcelona by 13 points and has written off its title defense.
"We have to aspire to second place,'' said Madrid defender Raul Albiol. "The league title is far away, but we have the Champions League and Copa del Rey. We have to focus on those competitions without forgetting the league, which is the day to day.''
Coming into the game in second-to-last place, the promoted Celta was the more aggressive side from the start as Aspas forced a pair of early saves from goalkeeper Diego Lopez.
But Ronaldo, who scored the decisive goal to move Madrid past United in the Champions League on Tuesday, sparked Madrid to life with its first shot between the posts in the 23rd.
Celta goalkeeper Javi Varas was then called upon to deny Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Jose Callejon, before Ronaldo headed Benzema's cross off the bar in the 41st.
Ronaldo finally broke through for the visitors when he controlled a rebound of a long strike by Callejon and used his left foot to sweep it into the goal from close range.
Just when Celta looked poised to collapse, Aspas received a pass inside the area and fired the ball off Pepe, with the deflection catching Lopez out of position.
Kaka went on in the 66th, and moments after Albiol cleared a dangerous spill by Lopez, the Brazil playmaker provoked the decisive penalty when Xabi Alonso released him in the area and Varas took him down.
Ronaldo drove the spot kick right down the middle of the net to re-establish the lead for good despite Celta's best efforts to salvage a point.
"I'm happy because the team played hard and we had (the draw) in our grasp,'' said Celta coach Abel Resino. "We deserved a better reward, but we'll keep fighting to stay in the first division.''
On Saturday, it was: Barcelona 2, Deportivo La Coruna 0, Rayo Vallecano 2, Espanyol 0; Valladolid 1, Malaga 1; and Mallorca 2, Sevilla 1. Real Betis downed Osasuna 2-1 on Friday. Real Zaragoza hosts Granada on Monday.