Ronaldo powers Real

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a clever backheel to lift Real Madrid to a 1-0 success at battling city rivals Rayo Vallecano on Sunday that equalled the club record of nine straight away wins.

The Portuguese international pounced on a loose ball at a 54th-minute corner and sent it through a crowd of players into the net for his 29th goal of the season, two ahead of Barca forward Lionel Messi at the top of the scoring chart.

Real's victory at promoted Rayo's sun-drenched stadium in the south east of the Spanish capital put Jose Mourinho's side 13 points clear of second-placed Barcelona ahead of the champions' game at Atletico Madrid later on Sunday.

Real have 64 points from 24 matches, with Barca on 51 in second and Valencia, who host Sevilla later on Sunday, 11 points further back in third.  Mid-table Rayo had the best chance of the first half when forward Piti crashed an angled shot past Iker Casillas that hit the inside of a post and bounced away along the line.

In an entertaining match earlier on Sunday, Athletic Bilbao missed a chance to climb above Levante into fourth and a Champions League qualification place when they were held to a 2-2 draw at improving Villarreal. The home side took a 10th-minute lead through former Spain midfielder Marcos Senna before goals from Fernando Llorente and Markel Susaeta put the Basque club 2-1 ahead.

Nilmar equalised in the 68th minute to leave Villarreal in 17th on 27 points and Bilbao in fifth on 34, one behind Levante, who won 2-1 at seventh-placed Espanyol on Saturday.

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