MADRID: A beleaguered Zinedine Zidane got the win he needed to take some pressure off as the Real Madrid manager.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored two first-half penalties to lead them past Valencia 4-1 on Saturday, breaking Real’s four-game winless streak away from home in La Liga.
The lopsided win at the ground of the sensation of La Liga this season came after the criticism of Zidane intensified this week following Real’s shock exit from the Copa del Rey quarter-finals to modest Leganes.
“I will always be under scrutiny, every day, that won’t change until the end,” Zidane said after the win at Mestalla. “What I have to do is to keep working with my players, and today I have to congratulate them for the match they played. To play well here and win 4-1 is not easy.”
Out of the Cup and provisionally 16 points behind runaway leaders Barcelona in La Liga, fourth-placed Real’s chances of salvaging the campaign hinge on bettering Paris St Germain when they meet in the Champions League round-of-16 in three weeks.
Despite being the coach who has led Real to back-to-back European Cups, Zidane was in dire need of a strong performance by his team against a quality opponent before facing the Ligue 1 leaders.
Now Real have only games against Levante and Real Sociedad before they turn to their first showdown with Neymar’s PSG on February 14.
“We know what those games [against PSG] mean for us, but we have to keep fighting for each game in the league so we can arrive to those games after a good run of results,” Real midfielder Luka Modric said. “It’s crazy, I can’t believe that people question Zidane after all that he has done with us.”
Real, who still have a match in hand, closed to within two points of third-placed Valencia (40).
Ronaldo sent goalkeeper Neto the wrong way to slot in his 100th penalty for club and country in the 16th minute after the Portuguese was felled in the box following a lightning quick breakaway from a Valencia corner.
He made no mistake again from the spot in the 38th after Karim Benzema had been pushed over in the area by defender Martin Montoya, stretching Real’s lead and moving on to eight goals in the league this season, including four penalties.
Valencia pulled themselves back into contention in the 58th minute when Santi Mina headed home from a corner while Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas denied Dani Parejo an equaliser with an impressive save with his foot.
Brazilian left back Marcelo made sure of the points with a thumping left-foot strike in the 84th minute and Toni Kroos added the fourth.
Villarreal scored four goals in the first half on the way to a 4-2 home win over Real Sociedad that lifted them to within a point of Real Madrid in fifth place.
Levante fought back from two goals down with 10 minutes remaining to draw 2-2 in a relegation six-pointer at Deportivo La Coruna and stay two points above the Galicians, who still occupy the final place in the relegation zone.
Malaga stayed rooted to the bottom of the standings after drawing 0-0 at home to Girona and the hosts’ Gonzalo Castro was dismissed after receiving two yellow cards.