MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid rebounded from two straight losses by beating Malaga 2-1 Saturday to guarantee it finishes the first half of the Spanish league season in first place.
Defender Sergio Ramos, coming off a difficult stretch in which he scored an own goal and was criticized for provoking opposing fans, scored twice in the first half on Sunday.
That helped Madrid snap a three-game winless streak and defend its league lead at the halfway point.
The win gave Madrid 43 points, four more than Sevilla, which plays at last-placed Osasuna on Sunday. Third-placed Barcelona, now five points behind Madrid, plays at Eibar later Sunday.
Madrid will remain with a game in hand — at Valencia — after the weekend's matches.
"If we are in front at this point in La Liga, it means that we have been doing things correctly," Madrid forward Lucas Vazquez said. "Now it's important to keep working like this so we can keep winning matches and win the title in the end."
Ramos put Madrid ahead at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with a firm header off a corner taken by Toni Kroos in the 35th minute, and added to the lead just before halftime with a shot from close range after another set-piece cross by Kroos.
"We all know what Sergio can do for us, especially in these set pieces," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "He has been great for us."
Ramos, who hadn't scored twice in a game since 2014, has reached five league goals for the first time in his career. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has more goals for Madrid this season, with 12.
Ramos made headlines in the last couple of weeks after getting into a spat with fans of former club Sevilla, saying they disrespected him in a Copa del Rey match. In his next game against Sevilla, three days later in the league, the Madrid captain scored an own goal that allowed the hosts to come from behind and eventually win late to end Madrid's record run of 40 games unbeaten in all competitions.
Madrid's second loss in a row came on Wednesday at home against Celta Vigo in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, leaving Los Blancos under pressure.
"We needed this type of victory to gain confidence for the return match in the Copa," Vazquez said.
Madrid hadn't won since a 5-0 rout of Granada in the Spanish league in its second game of the year.
Malaga had a few chances early at Bernabeu, including a dangerous shot by Gonzalo Castro that struck the post when the game was scoreless. The visitors also threatened midway through the second half, when Juanpi scored Malaga's lone goal in the 63rd and Castro forced goalkeeper Keylor Navas to make a difficult save from close range only a minute later to avoid the equalizer.
"We are glad to leave with the three points despite the difficulties that we had," Zidane said.
Madrid left back Marcelo was substituted in the 25th because of an apparent muscle injury. Luka Modric also had to leave because of an apparent injury in the second half.
Ronaldo, playing in his 250th Spanish league game, hit the post with a shot from inside the area in the 75th, his best chance of scoring his 274th goal all-time in the competition.
ESPANYOL 3, GRANADA 1
Espanyol ended its three-game winless streak with a comfortable home victory over struggling Granada and moved to 10th place.
Granada, winless in five matches, remained second-to-last but could drop bottom if last-placed Osasuna beats second-placed Sevilla at home on Sunday.