| Fernando Morientes, who scored two in Real Madrid’s 5-1 thrashing of Malaga in Madrid on Sunday, is congratulated by Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane after he struck the opening goal. (AP)
Madrid: Real Sociedad regained the league leadership in Spain with a 1-0 win over Recreativo Huelva on Sunday but Real Madrid kept the title race finely poised with a crushing 5-1 win over Malaga that took them up to second.
With four games left to play, Real Sociedad lead the standings with 69 points, followed by Real Madrid on 68.
Deportivo La Coruna slipped to third on 66 points after their surprise 1-2 defeat at home to Valencia on Saturday.
“It’s going to be tight right up until the end,” said Real coach Vicente del Bosque. “Whoever wins the title will deserve it.”
A nervous Real Sociedad clinched victory over Recreativo thanks to a long-range effort from Nihat Kahveci after nine minutes and the excellent goalkeeping of Sander Westerveld throughout.
Real Madrid had no such problems beating Malaga as they brushed aside all talk of crisis at the club following their Champions League semi-final defeat by Juventus in midweek.
Fernando Morientes got the opening goal after five minutes, taking a pass from Guti and beating the keeper with a right-foot shot from just inside the area.
Raul made it 2-0 on the quarter-hour and he set up Roberto Carlos for the third four minutes later. Raul was once again the provider for the fourth, setting up Morientes early in the second half, and Spain’s leading international goalscorer scored the fifth himself, after Manu Sanchez had pulled one back for Malaga.
Valencia’s victory over Deportivo on Saturday took them up to fourth place overnight and they held on to the final Champions League qualification spot as Celta Vigo suffered a shock 5-0 defeat away to Villarreal.
With four games left to play, Valencia are fourth on 56 points, followed by Celta on 54. Athletic Bilbao stayed in the final Uefa Cup spot in sixth thanks to their 4-2 win at Alaves.
Real Mallorca moved up to seventh, within a point of Bilbao, thanks to their 2-1 win away to Barcelona.
Real’s win over Malaga shows they can now reclaim the Spanish title, according to striker Fernando Morientes.
“It was the perfect way to heal the wounds of our elimination from the European Cup,” said the Spanish international.
“We have no one to fear and although Sociedad are going very well, the league will end up in our hands if we continue to show ourselves to be strong.”
“We needed a game like this after our elimination at the hands of Juve,” said midfielder Zinedine Zidane. “We played very well and you could see that we have recovered from our defeat, although the negative side is that Real (Sociedad) didn’t slip up.”