By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It was almost too easy. Real Madrid thumped a mediocre Mallorca on Sunday to match Barcelona’s 5-0 win at Rayo Vallecano and return to winning ways after losing at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday but, as Jose Mourinho admitted afterwards, there was still something missing.
Perhaps the biggest difference of all is that, this time last year, it was Madrid – and not Barca – who were in control of La Liga. This term, however, it is the Catalans out in front following a superb start to the season and Atletico hanging on in second, with Madrid eight points adrift in fourth place.
“We are on a positive track,” Mourinho said. “Even though we lost in the Champions League. We are winning games, but we are not playing as well as we did last season.”
At the moment, that matters little. The important thing for Madrid is to remain in touch with Barca and that was all but assured from the moment Gonzalo Higuain made it 1-0 after seven minutes following a monumental mix-up in the Mallorca defence – the Argentine making a timely return to form following a frustrating few weeks.
Cristiano Ronaldo then scored the second with just 21 minutes gone with a low angled shot into the bottom corner and it was all too easy. Madrid were not playing that well, they did not need to.
Ronaldo chalked up his first assist of the season as he created Higuain’s second midway through the second half and added another minutes later as he raced through the locals’ defence before producing a slick finish to move up to joint seventh on the club’s list of all-time Liga scorers with 123 goals, alongside both Pirri and Emilio Butragueno.
There was still time for another, too, as substitute Jose Callejon became Madrid’s first Spanish scorer of the season with his last-minute strike for 5-0, a scoreline identical to Barcelona’s at Rayo Vallecano the night before.
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But Madrid are still playing catch-up in the Primera Division and must now wait until the Catalans hit a rocky run of results in order to close some ground on their fiercest rivals. And that may be easier said than done because Barca have come through a defensive crisis unscathed to register their joint-best start to a season.
In order to beat Louis van Gaal’s record from 1997-98, Barca must avoid defeat at home to Celta Vigo next weekend – and will be expected to win that one comfortably against the promoted side. Madrid, meanwhile, face Zaragoza at the Santiago Bernabeu and must keep pace, even if they remain below their best.
After another goal-packed weekend in La Liga, there is no change at the top and as long as things stay as they are, Barca will be just fine with that.
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