Real Madrid makes changes, rips Levante
A much-changed Real Madrid recovered from another slow start to secure a 5-1 home win over European hopeful Levante.
Jose Mourinho made seven changes from the team that beat Galatasaray 3-0 to take control of its Champions League quarterfinal in midweek.
But with star names Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria initially watching on from the bench, Madrid fell behind -- for the third successive La Liga match -- to Michel's 31st-minute strike.
The response was swift, however, as Gonzalo Higuain hooked in before a Kaka penalty sent Madrid ahead within eight minutes of falling behind.
Ronaldo was inserted at the break and killed the game off on 84 minutes before Ozil added two more to lift Madrid four points clear of third-placed city rivals Atletico.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made his return from a finger injury, suffered at Valencia on Jan. 23, to sit on a star-studded substitutes' bench.
Mourinho was still able to call on a richly-assembled cast with Kaka initially pulling the strings.
The Brazilian burst forward on a couple of occasions, coming closest when the Levante defense stood off to allow him a shot that goalkeeper Gustavo Munua turned over.
Strike duo Karim Benzema and Higuain both also shot wide before Levante stole ahead following a counterattack.
The visitors had barely gone beyond the halfway line but were incisive when they did as Michel carried the ball 30 yards, played a one-two with Pedro Rios, and then poked home via a deflection off Pepe.
Madrid was not long behind though as Higuain made a case to start in midweek.
Xabi Alonso delivered a characteristic pin-point cross that the striker expertly hooked in on the full to beat Munua at his near post.
Madrid won a penalty moments later when Kaka's pass deflected off a defender and Christian Lell, at close quarters, instinctively put his hand in the way.
Kaka sent Munua the wrong way to fire his side into a lead they rarely looked like giving up.
Ronaldo was sent on at the break to ensure there was no upset and he quickly stung the palms of Munua.
Madrid wasted a slew of chances with Higuain and Arbeloa most glaringly at fault and could have been made to pay when Robert Aquafresca curled narrowly wide following another Levante break.
Ronaldo eventually put the game to bed six minutes from the end -- by which time he had been joined on the pitch by Ozil and Di Maria -- as he blasted in for his 29th league goal of the season.
Ozil then score twice in the closing moments, the first after a Ronaldo assist, to secure a slightly flattering scoreline and a 12th game unbeaten.
Elsewhere, Deportivo La Coruna gave its hopes of avoiding relegation from La Liga a boost this evening by beating fellow struggler Real Zaragoza in a 3-2 thriller at the Riazor.
However, Carlos Marchena equalized before halftime and Depor took the lead for a second time 10 minutes into the second half thanks to an own goal by Abraham Minero, whose night was made even worse when he was sent off with nine minutes remaining.
Depor has now won three consecutive games and moved off the bottom of the table for the first time since Dec. 2. Meanwhile, Zaragoza, which has not been in the relegation zone once all season, could find itself in it by Sunday afternoon.
Earlier Saturday, Real Sociedad opened up a four-point lead on their rival for fourth place with a resounding 4-2 win at home to Malaga.
Pedro Morales pulled one back for Malaga before the break, but any hope of a comeback was then vanquished by a goal by Inigo Martinez shortly after the re-start. Roque Santa Cruz scored a second consolation goal with 20 minutes remaining, but a home victory was never in doubt.
The two teams were separated by a point going into the match, but the victory means Real Sociedad is ever closer to qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 10 years.