Real Madrid roared back to the top of La Liga with a comfortable 3-0 victory over ten-men Levante at the Bernabeu.
Strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo were supplemented by an own goal from Nikos Karabelas to set up an extremely convincing win, which was only marred by a worrying looking injury to defender Dani Carvajal in the final stages. The right-back collapsed in agony off the ball, leaving Los Blancos with an anxious wait to discover the severity of the problem – especially concerning with Alvaro Arbeloa currently out with a knee injury.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team are now four points clear of Barcelona and three clear of Atletico, and have amassed a four-month, 29-game unbeaten run to propel them into contention for all major honours.
Unsurprisingly, they started with great confidence and soon started to create chances against a Levante team weakened by three suspensions.
Ronaldo had the game’s first effort on goal with a cushioned volley which demanded a diving save from Keilor Navas, but the visiting keeper was unable to repel Ronaldo’s powerful 12-yard header from Angel Di Maria’s left-wing corner.
Di Maria came close to adding a second after bursting into the box and shooting low, but Navas was quickly off his line to save.
The visiting team were struggling to establish any attacking momentum, only mustering a speculative long-range volley from Sergio Pinto as a Madrid back four, marshalled by Sergio Ramos, enjoyed an extremely comfortable opening period.
Navas was again called into action when Karim Benzema raced onto a pass from Luka Modric, with the Levante keeper diving bravely at Benzema’s feet to prevent a certain goal.
Di Maria fired a long-range effort wide as Madrid continued to dominate, and they came within inches of adding a second shortly before the interval when Marcelo’s cross found Benzema, whose header was kept out by the left upright.
The long-anticipated second goal finally arrived in the early stages of the second half, with Marcelo bounding down the left to receive a pass from Ronaldo before cutting inside onto his right foot and curling a beautiful strike into the far corner.
Benzema’s bright, all-round performance was worthy of a goal and the in-form French striker came close with a curling strike from the edge of the box which produced an acrobatic stop from the busy Navas.
The visitors were then reduced to ten men with the dismissal of defender David Navarro, who was somewhat harshly shown a straight red for a silly lunge from behind on Ronaldo.
That decision completely quashed any remaining possibility of a Levante comeback, and the only remaining question was by how many the hosts would win.
Marcelo could have added a second after a slick move involving Ronaldo and Benzema, but on this occasion the Brazilian fired over the bar.
There was more than a hint of comedy to Madrid’s third goal, which arrived when Marcelo’s deep cross was smashed into his own net by Greek defender Nikos Karabelas with such ferocity it almost looked intentional.
Gareth Bale skidded a low 20- yard effort narrowly wide and Ronaldo saw his header from Marcelo’s cross crash against the underside of the crossbar as Madrid searched for their fourth, but Carvajal’s injury provided a sour note to an otherwise exemplary evening.
Manuel Pellegrini demanded an instant reaction from Manchester City after FA Cup holders Wigan shocked them again in the competition to destroy their historic dream of winning four trophies this season.
Following their loss in last May’s final at Wembley, it was a case of déjà vu in the last eight as a penalty from Jordi Gomez and James Perch’s finish saw the Championship side seal an unexpected semi-final meeting with Arsenal.
Samir Nasri’s 68th minute strike proved in vain, and Pellegrini called for his players to step up to avoid another prize eluding them as they head to Barcelona for Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 secondleg tie.
“It is a game we are losing 2-0 in this moment so it is a difficult game,” said the City boss, whose side lifted the League Cup last weekend. “It’s important for a big team, when you have a setback, you have to react quickly.
“We still have a possibility, but with a lot of trust about what we can do in the future.
“We will try to do a very good game there and will see what happens against Barcelona. Winning always gives you confidence, but maybe a game like this can bring a reaction.
"No [I don’t feel let down by the players]. I think we all work together, we all have a responsibility to win. We have a lot of things to fight for until the end of the season.
“First we must try to win in Barcelona and then continue to try to reach the top of the [Premier League] table with the three games we have in hand. We are going to try to win every match we play.”
Pellegrini decried a lack of intensity and pace from his team, as well as perhaps underestimating Wigan, in a first-half display he described as the worst during his tenure.
Centre-back Martin Demichelis was again sloppy and unsteady, conceding the 27th minute penalty with a late tackle on Marc-Antoine Fortune after the frontman had cleverly turned him. Gomez then drove the spot-kick confidently past Costel Pantilimon.
City were rattled, picking fights rather than showing fight and the second goal in the 47th minute was another example of who had the greater desire.
When Joleon Lescott’s clearing header dropped to James McArthur on the edge of the box, he burst forward forcefully and unchallenged. His low cross should have been cleared by Gael Clichy, but Perch pounced, getting ahead of the hesitant Frenchman to slide into the net.
City overturned a similar deficit against Watford in the last round to win 4-2, but there was to be no repeat. Sub Edin Dzeko headed against the post before Nasri fired into the corner from 20 yards to spark a late charge that proved futile.
Captain Emmerson Boyce typified Wigan’s spirit as he made a last-ditch challenge to deny Dzeko a tap-in from two yards.
Boss Uwe Rosler called it “unbelievable, a match-winning decisive moment”.
A cult hero at City after a four year spell as a striker, the German boss plotted their downfall as his combative and committed side were heroes, joining Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea as the only sides to win at the Etihad in this campaign.
Rosler said: “Coming here against one of the best teams in the world and the way we won – not just by parking the bus, we played very good football – I think it is my biggest achievement [in football].”
Boyce added: “People kept saying we were lucky last year, but we’re going back to Wembley and we’re making history again.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to enjoy every single minute. We’re still holders.”
Two quickfire second-half goals from David Villa lifted Atletico Madrid to the top of the table last night with victory at Celta Vigo.
With Barcelona having suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid earlier in the day and Real Madrid not in action until Sunday night, Diego Simeone’s side headed into the game at Balaidos knowing a win would put them at the summit.
The first half was a lacklustre affair but a different Atletico emerged for the second period and two goals in two minutes just after the hour mark from former Barca striker Villa sent Los Rojiblancos top – above Real on head-to-head record.
Atletico were missing three key players to suspension in centreback Diego Godin, midfield creator Arda Turn and Villa’s strike partner Diego Costa.
That looked to have a notable effect on the game as chances were few and far between in the early exchanges, with both sides largely limited to wayward long-range attempts.
Celta goalkeeper Yoel was called upon to parry a Koke blast in the 25th minute and a Diego Ribas volley soon after, while Charles saw Celta’s best opportunity of the first half blocked by Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois four minutes before the interval.
Simeone’s half-time team-talk had the desired effect, however, as Atletico set about stopping the rot after losses at Almeria and Osasuna in their previous two away games.
Yoel did well to deny Filipe Luis 13 minutes after the restart, but the deadlock was broken soon after when Villa latched onto a sloppy back-pass and coolly slotted the ball under the Celta goalkeeper.
Ninety seconds later Atletico doubled their advantage when substitute Jose Sosa produced the perfect low cross for Villa, who took a touch to control before despatching a clinical finish into the bottom-left corner – his 13th goal in La Liga this term.
Luis Enrique’s side never looked like getting back in the game, and could even have gone further behind in stoppage time were it not for a smart save from Yoel after Cristian Rodriguez had found time and space for a left-footed shot.