Karim Benzema scores twice as Spanish league leaders Real Madrid beat Granada 5-1
Cristiano Ronaldo scores his 21st goal in La Liga this season to extend lead over Lionel Messi
Messi's Barcelona team must win Sunday's derby at Espanyol or lose ground in title race
Fourth-placed Levante can only draw 0-0 with visiting Real Mallorca earlier on Saturday
Real Madrid piled the pressure on Barcelona by moving six points clear at the top of Spain’s La Liga with a 5-1 thrashing of Granada on Saturday.
Barcelona, seeking a fourth successive league title, now cannot afford to slip up in Sunday’s trip to city rivals Espanyol.
Jose Mourinho’s Real made the perfect start after the Spanish winter break as Karim Benzema netted twice and Cristiano Ronaldo extended his leading goal tally to 21.
It was Real’s 14th win in 17 league games for a total of 43 points from a possible 51, with 61 goals for and 16 against.
Benzema opened the scoring after 20 minutes after Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil combined well inside the box, but 14th-placed Granada surprisingly leveled soon after as Mikel Rico headed in a cross by Nigeria forward Ikechukwu Uche.
Spain defender Sergio Ramos restored the home side’s advantage as he powerfully nodded in Ozul’s 34th-minute corner, and Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain made it 3-1 straight after the break with his 13th league goal this season after fullback Marcelo was allowed to surge into the box.
Benzema made it safe in the 50th minute as the France forward controlled Xabi Alonso’s lofted diagonal pass and fired in a low shot for his 10th in La Liga and 16th overall.
Ronaldo finally got on the scoresheet with a minute of regulation time remaining, as the world’s most expensive player – who is on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award to be named on Monday – fired in from the edge of the penalty area.
That took the Portugal captain four goals clear of Barca’s Lionel Messi, who is hoping to win his third successive world player of the year title.
Fourth-placed Levante face the prospect of losing ground on Valencia after being held to a 0-0 draw by visiting Real Mallorca.
Valencia, who trail Barca by four points, can move six clear of their local rivals by winning at third-bottom Villarreal on Sunday.
Levante did, however, stay four points clear of fifth-placed Osasuna, who also played out a stalemate at Real Sociedad as both those sides extended their unbeaten runs to six matches.
Sevilla can leapfrog the Pamplona-based side with victory at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
Malaga also had the chance to claim fifth by beating Atletico Madrid in Saturday’s late match, but there were no goals in that game either and the home side had to settle for going a point above Sevilla into sixth.
Racing Santander moved above second-bottom Sporting Gijon, Villarreal and Vallecano with a 1-0 victory at home to Real Zaragoza that lifted the Cantabrians out of the relegation zone.
Bernardo Espinosa’s winner in first-half injury time left Zaragoza five points adrift at the bottom of the table.