Ronaldo's 15th goal helps Madrid labor to win


Cristiano Ronaldo's 15th goal of the season helped Real Madrid labor to a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Spanish league before its midweek Champions League visit to Borussia Dortmund.

Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot in the 67th minute at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after Gonzalo Higuain opened for the hosts in the 11th with a lofted shot from well outside the area that looped over goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez.

Madrid struggled to string together its attack inside Celta's area and at times looked the complacent side that started the league so poorly. On Wednesday, it plays at the German champions in the Champions League.

Barcelona can re-establish its eight-point lead over Madrid with a victory at Deportivo La Coruna later Saturday, which would also see it move three points clear of Atletico Madrid atop the standings. Atletico, which has 19 points like Barcelona, is at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Earlier, Malaga stayed within touch of the Spanish leaders after Joaquin Sanchez scored in a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Real Valladolid as the Costa del Sol club warmed up for its Champions League match against AC Milan with another victory.

After cyclist Alberto Contador took the ceremonial opening kick, Madrid struggled to find its rhythm. But Higuain floated a ball from the left side toward goal that ended up in the far corner to give the hosts confidence.

Ronaldo was certainly a presence in Celta's area but the Portugal forward strayed on a pair of headers from inside the box.

The Galician club - which was bidding to become the first team to win on three straight visits to the Bernabeu, counting its last trip here in 2006 - was dangerous on the counter with Iago Aspas and Enrique de Lucas forcing Iker Casillas into impressive saves as Madrid was seemingly in cruise control at times. Casillas denied substitute Chu-young Park's point-blank header in the closing stages.

Madrid's defense never showed nerves, however, despite Mourinho having to recruit Michael Essien to left back and move Sergio Ramos to the right with Marcelo, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao all missing to injury.

Gustavo Cabral barged into the back of Mesut Oezil as the German streaked through the area to set up Ronaldo's penalty and his league-leading ninth goal.

"We weren't ourselves in the first 10 minutes," Celta coach Paco Herrera said.
Malaga, meanwhile, rebounded from its first loss in all competitions before welcoming the Italian giants on Wednesday. Malaga had won its opening pair of Champions League games before losing to Atletico in the league in the last round.

Joaquin made up for an earlier penalty miss by latching on to the rebound from Martin Demichelis' saved header in the 87th minute to cap a rally that started with Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's 37th-minute equalizer.

Valladolid had gone ahead through Manucho's ninth-minute strike, but the Angola striker's second booking in the 81st left the visitors with 10 men and the hosts with the advantage as they pressed for a winner.

"It was important to win today, nobody was thinking ahead to Milan," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "But now we have four days to prepare for a match that could practically clinch our place in the next stages."

Malaga is two points behind both Barcelona and Atletico before their eighth-round games. Celta is mid-table.

Also, Valencia plays Athletic Bilbao later Saturday.

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