Ronaldo turns playmaker to lead Madrid past Bilbao 2-1
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, celebrates with Marcelo Vieira, top, after their team scored during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, at San Mames stadium, in Bilbao, northern Spain, Saturday, March 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo turned into Real Madrid's playmaker by setting up two goals to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Saturday and keep on track to reclaim the Spanish league title.
Ronaldo passed for Karim Benzema to open the scoring at San Mames Stadium.
Bilbao equalized through Aritz Aduriz's header in the 65th, but three minutes later Ronaldo flicked on a corner kick for Casemiro to finish off.
"We won at a very difficult ground. We had to dig in but we played with real character," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.
Madrid, which hasn't won the league since 2012, leads second-placed Barcelona by five points. Barcelona hosts Valencia on Sunday. Madrid has a game in hand.
The loss ended Bilbao's unbeaten home streak at 13 games in the league, one short of the club record in 1992.
Madrid spent long stretches in its half absorbing Bilbao's pressure brought by wingers Inaki Williams and Inigo Leque.
But Madrid's efficiency proved the difference. As Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde put it: "They beat us with two moments of brilliance."
Midfielder Casemiro played a part in Benzema's goal when he spotted Ronaldo breaking down the left. Ronaldo received his long pass and squared the ball for Benzema to slot in.
Benzema moved into the top-10 La Liga scorers in Madrid's history, with 119 goals in 237 matches. Ronaldo had the club record of 280.
Madrid had little trouble repelling Bilbao's crosses until Williams forced Keylor Navas to make a difficult save early in the second half.
Shortly after, Williams sped past Marcelo and crossed for Raul Garcia to head the ball back to the center of the six-yard box where Aduriz nodded it home.
Bilbao's push was deflated by Ronaldo, however, when he headed on a corner kick for Casemiro to control and tap in uncontested.
"I know what my duties in the team are and that's not scoring goals because there are more gifted players than me playing further forward," Casemiro said. "Having said that, if I can score, then all the better."
ALAVES 1, REAL SOCIEDAD 0
Deyverson's goal just before halftime secured Alaves a win over regional Basque Country rival Real Sociedad.
Sociedad was left with 10 men from the 67th after Esteban Granero picked up his second yellow card.
With a second consecutive loss, Sociedad missed the chance to move into fifth place and lost ground on the top four spots that earn Champions League berths.
EIBAR 1, ESPANYOL 1
Enrique Garcia headed in Pedro Leon's cross for Eibar in the 20th, and Espanyol midfielder Jose Jurado equalized shortly after halftime.
The splitting of the points did little to help both sides' hopes of qualifying for the Europa League.
REAL BETIS 2, OSASUNA 0
Bottom-side Osasuna is staring at relegation after its winless streak reached 20 rounds.
Betis eased to victory from Rafa Navarro's first career goal in the league followed by Ruben Castro's strike.