Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho heaped praise on his exhausted team after seeing them edge past local rivals Atletico Madrid 2-1 to keep within touching distance of Primera Division leaders Barcelona.
First-half goals form the in-form Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil set Real on their way and, although Sergio Aguero pulled a goal back to Atletico with four minutes to go, it was too little too late to save the Rojiblancos from another derby disappointment.
The result means Real remain unbeaten against their neighbours since 1999 and have won all four meetings with Atletico this season, having also beaten them home and away in the Copa del Rey. The victory also allowed Mourinho's side to keep within five points of Barca, who defeated Getafe earlier in the evening.
It was not an easy night for Real at the Vicente Calderon though and, having had an emotionally draining Champions League clash against Lyon on Wednesday when the Whites finally made it through to the quarter-finals after six successive last-16 exits, Mourinho admitted fatigue had been a problem.
"They had a week to prepare for the duel and us, two days," said Mourinho. "The team was tired. I was also tired and I'm the coach,'' said the Portuguese, who has been highly critical of the scheduling of his side's matches recently. The second half was difficult. We couldn't hit them on the counter-attack.
"I changed Cristiano (Ronaldo) and Benzema, but Ozil had to stay on. We defended as well as possible and we achieved an important derby win.''
Ronaldo was a fitness doubt ahead of the game having been sidelined with a hamstring injury before playing 70 minutes in the European triumph over Lyon. Mourinho opted to start the Portugal international against Atletico before replacing him in the 72nd minute.
"I would like to have rested him, but I didn't want the championship to end today and Cristiano Ronaldo is very important to us. It was a risk to play him, but you need to live day to day,'' Mourinho said. "Today he hurts and tomorrow the doctors will examine him. Then we'll see if he goes away with Portugal (on international duty). They are all tired, physically and mentally.''
Mourinho also hailed the performance goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a string of impressive saves to keep Atletico at bay before finally being beaten by Aguero near the end.
"Casillas has done a fantastic job. I like it when my goalkeeper doesn't have much to do in a game, and he had a lot to do tonight and he was fantastic,'' said Mourinho. "Atletico have shown their great spirit and quality of play, and Madrid had an answer to those who thought that the league finished today.
"I was very worried (about a late equaliser), but at the same time I was full of trust in the players' mentality and fighting spirit. I know football and many things happen in the last minutes and change the result. But they fought, they gave everything and I'm pleased for the players.''
Mourinho was less impressed by the insults and abuse hurled at Ronaldo and Marcelo from the home fans though, saying: "This is a fantastic stadium to play football in with an atmosphere we would like to have at every ground, but the insults are not good or positive and they spoil a great ground.
"There needs to be respect for the players and their families.''
Real defender Pepe is anticipating an "intense'' final two months of the season.
Pepe said: "The next two months will be intense. We will try to live up to the challenge and make our fans happy. Whilst there`s a chance, we will fight to the very end. That`s what the coach and our supporters ask us to do.''
Looking ahead to the clash with Spurs, which will see nine-time European champions Madrid playing in the quarter-finals for the first time in seven years, Pepe said: "Our tie with Tottenham will be difficult and we'll have to be good to get through. We will try to do our best to reach the final, which is so important for Madrid.''
Regarding the Copa del Rey final, Pepe added on his club`s website: "Against Barcelona we`ll play a great game. Everyone will be watching.''
Atletico defender Alvaro Dominguez felt his side deserved to take at least a point.
Dominguez told AS: "This defeat hasn't left us demoralised, but very annoyed. I think we deserved a draw at least, that would have been the fairer result.
"We've tried, but it was difficult. We knew they were a very hard opponent but we've taken them on, we had our chances and we deserved more than one or two goals. That was the difference. To beat a team like this you need to have an exceptional day.''
Goalscorer Aguero added on his club's website: "Our goal arrived very late and it was difficult to draw level. At least we tried but Madrid are a great team who are fighting for the league and it`s hard. They don't let you off the hook in front of goal, we tried to score but Casillas made some key saves. We did everything to draw level but we couldn't.
"Now we need to correct the mistakes for the next game. We always want to win, more so against Madrid as we haven't done it for 11 years, but we can't do anything about it and we need to continue forward. We want to get into the Europa League.''