MADRID (Reuters) - Leaders Real Madrid pulled three points clear of second-placed Celta Vigo when they held off the valiant 10-man Galicians to secure a nervy 3-1 victory in Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash in La Liga.
Forward Cristiano Ronaldo and fullback Danilo struck early to put Real in control at Celta’s Balaidos stadium and Real’s Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas made sure they went into the break 2-0 ahead with a host of outstanding saves.
Real, missing injured regulars Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez but with fit-again Luka Modric back in the starting lineup, went ahead in the eighth minute when Lucas Vazquez squared for Ronaldo to finish past Sergio Alvarez in the home goal.
Danilo made it 2-0 15 minutes later with his debut Real goal when he found space on the right and had time to pick his spot.
Navas, who has conceded only three goals in Spain’s top flight this term, was on scintillating form in the first half and his saves from efforts by Orellana, Iago Aspas and Pablo Hernandez were out of the top drawer.
Celta battled hard to get back into the game in the second half but their hopes were dealt a blow in the 57th minute when centre back Gustavo Cabral protested about a decision too energetically and was shown a second yellow card and sent off.
Real failed to make their numerical superiority count, however, and Marcelo had to clear a Nolito effort off the line in the 72nd minute before the Spain winger pulled a goal back with a stunning drive into the top corner five minutes from time.
Celta substitute John Guidetti fired just wide moments later but Real held firm and Marcelo scored with the last kick of the match in the 96th minute to make it 3-1.
Real midfielder Casemiro blamed the team’s inability to kill off Celta on fatigue after a draining 0-0 draw at Paris St Germain in the Champions League midweek.
“We were tired because we had a tough match on Wednesday,” Casemiro told Spanish television.
“We knew they were strong at home,” added the Brazilian. “Celta are a very good team and they will be fighting for the positions at the top of the table.”
Nolito said that despite the defeat Celta, who thumped champions Barcelona 4-1 at the Balaidos last month, would be strengthened by the way they responded after the sending off.
“Even when you lose there can be a lot of positives,” he told Spanish television.
“We played a great match even with 10 men and I think the team should be congratulated,” he added.
Real have 21 points from nine matches, with Celta level on 18 with Barca, who play their game in hand at home to Eibar on Sunday.
Atletico Madrid are fourth on 16 points ahead of Sunday’s match at home to Valencia, when Villarreal, who also have 16 points in fifth, play at promoted Las Palmas.
Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon