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Real Madrid, Barça keep on Atletico’s tail

Gareth Bale scored twice as Real Madrid recovered from two consecutive league defeats to beat Rayo Vallecano 5-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Atletico Madrid remain top of the Spanish La Liga as they came from behind away to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1, while Barcelona rounded off a fine week by overcoming stiff resistance from local rivals Espanyol to win 1-0 thanks to a late Lionel Messi penalty. Victory for all three title contenders means that Atletico maintain their one point lead over Barcelona with Real a further two points adrift in third.

Bale also teed up Cristiano Ronaldo to open the scoring at the Bernabeu as the Potuguese continued his run of scoring in each of his last ten games for club and country by bursting past two Rayo defenders before slotting low into the corner.

Karim Benzema then failed to connect with an open goal to aim at and Bale also passed up a huge chance as he kicked the ground when attempting to chip Ruben Martinez. Dani Carvajal eventually made the game safe when he registered his first goal for the club from Ronaldo’s cut-back ten minutes after half-time.

Bale then took over as he tapped home Angel di Maria’s unselfish cross before running half the length of the field to slot home his 16th goal of the season to make it 4-0. And Alvaro Morata rounded off the rout with a fine curling effort 12 minutes from time.

It was a far tougher day for Atletico and Barça as they had to grind out difficult wins away from home. Atletico got off to the worst possible start as Aritz Aduriz cushioned a long ball into Iker Muniain’s path and he sent a perfectly weighted lob over Thibaut Courtois and just under the crossbar.

Diego Costa had a chance to reply soon after as he was played in by Koke, but his shot was too close to Gorka Iraizoz and the ‘keeper parried the ball to safety. The Spanish international made amends with a similar chance nine minutes later when he was again sent through on goal by Koke and this time finished low into the far corner for his 33rd goal of the season.

Costa was left cursing his luck at the start of the second period as he raced onto another long ball and shot inches wide. Atletico did get the game’s all-important third goal, though, as Costa fed Filipe Luis on the left and his cross was headed home at close range by Koke.

Courtois was forced into one brilliant save from a towering header by Aduriz as Athletic pressed for an equaliser. But they couldn’t find a way through and the hosts finished the game with ten men as Laporte saw a second yellow card for chopping down Costa five minutes from time.

Elsewhere, Sevilla would remain six points behind Athletic for fourth after losing to Celta Vigo on the road when Nolito tucked away an 87th minute spot kick.