GARETH BALE compensated for the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo with a goal and an assist as Real Madrid went top of La Liga with a 4-2 win over Villarreal, whilst Atletico Madrid lost 2-0 at Almeria on Saturday.
The Welshman took advantage of an error from Chechu Dorado to chip home the opener before setting up Karim Benzema to put Madrid on the road to victory.
A wonder strike from Villarreal right-back Mario Gaspar gave Villarreal hope before half-time, but the in-form Jese Rodriguez made it 3-1 just after the hour mark with a lovely deft finish.
Giovani Dos Santos’ free-kick halved the deficit once more before Benzema’s second of the game sealed the points 15 minutes from time.
Los Blancos are now ahead of Atletico on goal difference after they lost for just the second time in the league this season as two late goals from Verza handed relegation threatened Almeria an unlikely win.
Atletico were dealt an early blow as goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois missed out due to injury and the Belgian’s absence was to prove vital as his deputy Daniel Aranzubia endured a nightmare evening.
After a keenly contested first-half short on clear-cut chances, Atletico had started the second period strong as Diego Ribas flashed a shot just wide.
However, disaster struck for Diego Simeone’s men 10 minutes from time when Aranzubia flapped at Verza’s overhit cross and the ball flew into the far corner.
Things got even worse for the former Deportivo la Coruna keeper six minutes later when he was harshly adjudged to have brought down Jonathan Zongo inside the area and was shown a red card.
Having made all three substitutions, midfielder Gabi had to go in goal and Verza converted from the spot with ease.
It was a far happier evening for Real at the Santiago Bernabeu and boss Carlo Ancelotti hailed Bale’s contribution in Ronaldo’s absence.
“The absence of Cristiano gives more motivation to everyone. He is an indispensible player so everyone else has to work harder,” said the Italian.
“Bale played well, like the whole team did. It wasn’t an easy game, after the effort we made against Atletico on Wednesday it wasn’t easy to prepare for this match.
“He scored a good goal, made the second goal and general level of his overall performance was good.”