Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ronaldo rockets Real to top as Barca knock high-flying Valencia off perch

Pete Jensen

Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol were on target as Barcelona came from a goal down to beat Valencia 2-1 at the Nou Camp on Saturday night, but it was Real Madrid who moved to the top of La Liga with a 4-1 win in Malaga.

Valencia started the day as the unbeaten league leaders and Pablo Hernandez's strike before the break had their hosts on the rack.

The champions rose to the challenge in the second half, however, and fit-again midfielder Xavi set up both goals to put them second with 16 points from seven games, ahead of Valencia on goal difference.

"Equalising at the start of the second half was crucial. The win gives us confidence for the coming games, especially the changes we made after the break," commented Iniesta. "In the first half we didn't control the ball and deserved to be losing," he added.

Jose Mourinho's Real climbed one point above both Barca and Valencia after two goals each from Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo swept aside Malaga.

Real had struggled for goals in the opening games of the season, but, after thumping Deportivo Coruna 6-1 in their previous match, they seem to have found their range.

Ronaldo had a hand in all four goals and crossed for Higuain to volley home the opener in the 30th minute.

Malaga were combative and caused the visitors problems, but Mesut Ozil broke down the right and crossed low for Ronaldo to double the lead just before half-time.

The Portuguese scored from the penalty spot in the 47th minute and, although Kris Stadsgaard pulled one back at a corner for Malaga, Real made it four when Ronaldo laid off for Higuain to bag the fourth in the 65th.

The world's most expensive player has undoubtedly found his form after enduring a frustrating start to the season, during which he has been booed and whistled at by home and away fans.

It was reported that Ronaldo had been getting anxious about his lean spell, but the 25-year-old refuted this after Saturday night's game.

"I never said I was suffering from anxiety, this was just the media talking. I focus on working for things that are good for the team and knew that the goals would arrive sooner or later."

Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, has said he will accept an offer from Mourinho to work more closely with the coach at the Bernabeu.

"I will work with him (more regularly)," Zidane, a former Real player, announced on Saturday.

"It suits me in a way, because I wanted to get more involved in the structure of the club."

It has been a bad week for crowd trouble and hooliganism in Italy.

After violence and rioting by Serbian fans caused the abandonment of the national side's Euro 2012 qualifier last Tuesday, the referee for Inter's game at Cagliari yesterday suspended play after only three minutes had elapsed following racist chants by the home fans towards the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o.

Play was allowed to continue several minutes later once a public announcement had been made calling for Cagliari supporters to stop the jeers, and Eto'o silenced them completely by scoring the winner in the 39th minute.

The striker took his Serie A tally to six goals from seven games this season and, like most of his recent efforts, his strike was a marvellous finish.

Wesley Sneijder hooked the ball on and Eto'o twisted and turned before planting a left-foot shot in the corner of the net from the edge of the box.

The Italian football authorities, who have long struggled with racist fans, gave referees the right to suspend games in the event of such chanting after Mario Balotelli, now of Manchester City, was abused during Inter's match at Juventus two seasons ago.

Irish Independent

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