Madrid maintain Barca chase

Real Madrid recovered from a slow start to see off Almeria and close the gap on Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

Madrid were strangely sluggish in the first half, lacking tempo in a completely flat performance, a stark contrast to the verve with which Barcelona took apart Getafe on Tuesday.

James Rodriguez roused Madrid from their slumber with a thumping volley moments before the interval, a goal completely out of kilter with the rest of the first 45 minutes.

It was also Madrid’s 100th League goal of the season, the sixth season in a row in which Los Blancos have reached three figures.

A Mauro Dos Santos own goal gave Madrid a second not long after the restart, the goal initially credited to Cristiano Ronaldo, who was in close attendance.

Alvaro Arbeloa scored Madrid’s third, converting Javier Hernandez’s far post cross, beating the waiting Ronaldo to the tap-in.

The victory means Madrid again trail Barcelona by two points with four rounds of the Primera to play.

Carlo Ancelotti made five changes to the XI that started against Celta Vigo and named Danish starlet Martin Odegaard on the bench, while Sergi Berjuan also shuffled his pack after a quick turnaround from Week 33.

Madrid made a bright start, a Javier Hernandez cross causing panic in the Almeria area and James Rodriguez meeting an Alvaro Arbeloa centre but not finding the target with his header.

Too often though the final ball was poor and Ronaldo showed signs of frustration each time the delivery failed to find him.

Almeria fashioned a good chance that was wasted by Corona’s shot, Ronaldo’s long-range free kick brushed the roof of the net and a Hernandez-led break went nowhere in a game that struggled to get into gear.

The excitement level was so low that Fabio Coentrao and James Rodriguez each taking a throw-in with a different ball at the same time was one of the more interesting moments.

James produced a moment of genuine class to end the half, the ball – the only one on the pitch – dropping on the edge of the area and met with his left foot, giving Ruben no chance in the Almeria goal and ensuring Madrid ended the half on a high.

They started the second in similar fashion, although the goal was far less spectacular and not even converted by a player in a white shirt, the unfortunate Dos Santos the guilty party.

Madrid were largely content to lead 2-0, Raphael Varane’s header and Hernandez’s toe-poked effort from Ronaldo’s cross the closest they came before Arbeloa wrapped up the points.

Ronaldo hammering the ball into the back of the net hinted at his displeasure with not scoring but on a far from vintage night – for Madrid and Ronaldo both – the points are what matter.

Real Madrid 3-0 Almeria

James 45, Dos Santos og 49, Arbeloa 85

Real Madrid: Navas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Varane (Nacho 86), Coentrao; Kroos, Illarra (Lucas Silva 65), James (Isco 65); Ronaldo, Jese, Hernandez

Almeria: Ruben; Ximo, Trujillo, Mauro, Mane; Verza (Azeez 66), Thomas (Espinosa 62), Corona; Dubarbier, Hemed, Edgar (Zongo 58)

Referee: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva