Gareth Bale guides Real Madrid attack
Gareth Bale and Jese each scored and set up goals for Karim Benzema in Real Madrid's 4-2 win over Villarreal on Saturday, pulling Madrid level on points with their city rivals Atletico at the top of La Liga.
With leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo serving the first match of a three-game suspension, Bale shone by opening the scoring in the seventh minute at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Bale seemed particularly eager to take charge with Ronaldo out and after returning from a leg injury that sidelined him for two matches.
Defender Jose Dorado unwisely tried to dribble around Bale instead of passing to a nearby teammate. The Wales winger pounced on his clumsy touch to steal the ball, press forward unchallenged, and coolly chip helpless goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Bale later crossed for Benzema's first goal in the 25th minute.
After Villarreal's Mario Gaspar struck in the 43rd minute, Jese netted what proved to be Madrid's winner in the 64th minute before Villarreal forward Giovani Dos Santos curled in a free kick in the 69th.
The 20-year-old Jese passed for Benzema to get his second goal in the 76th minute.
Real Madrid will spend the night in first place on goal difference after Atletico Madrid's surprising 2-0 loss at Almeria.
Jose Antonio Verza curled in a stunning goal that was most likely meant to be a 10 minutes from time after Almeria's stubborn defensive display had driven Atletico to frustration.
Things got worse five minutes later when goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia blundered in a big way, fluffing a back-pass and then fouling Jonathan Zongo to concede a penalty and earn a red card.
Verza converted the penalty to seal Almeria's win.
Victory for Barcelona at Sevilla on Sunday would send Gerardo Martino's men back to the top of the league on goal difference and leave all three title contenders on 57 points.
Earlier, Valencia rolled over bottom-side Real Betis 5-0 to continue to show their turnaround under coach Juan Pizzi. Since Pizzi took over last month, Valencia have climbed into eighth place with three wins, two draws and one loss in La Liga.
Pablo Alcacer scored his third and fourth goals of the past three games to give Valencia back-to-back wins after upsetting Barcelona last week.
Jeremy Mathieu headed in Valencia's first goal at Mestalla Stadium from a corner kick in the 41st minute, and Alcacer stretched to guide in newcomer Eduardo Vargas' pass three minutes later.
Sofiane Feghouli started and finished an attack in the 62nd minute. Alcacer headed in his second in the 68th, and Vargas completed the rout in the 79th.
Philippe Senderos played 82 minutes in his debut for Valencia after joining from Fulham in the January transfer window.
Rayo Vallecano broke a run of six home losses by humbling 10-man Malaga 4-1 to move to within two points of safety.
Iago Falque dribbled by two defenders to score in the 26th minute. Anaitz Arbilla's deflected shot made it 2-0 in the 28th, and Joaquin Larrivey converted a penalty in first-half injury time after Malaga's Sergio Sanchez received his second booking for fouling the striker in the area.
Falque used another solo effort to score in the 63rd minute before Malaga debutante Oleksandr Iakovenko grabbed a 72nd-minute consolation goal.