A much-changed Real Madrid edged past basement club Malaga 2-1 to leapfrog Valencia into third place in LaLiga.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were left out completely as Zinedine Zidane made six changes from the Champions League home defeat to Juventus but they ran out comfortable winners thanks to Isco’s superb free-kick and Casemiro’s second-half finish.
Diego Rolan scored with the last touch of the match to halve the deficit but defeat leaves Malaga on the verge of relegation as they sit 14 points adrift of safety with six matches remaining – their fate will be sealed if they lose to 17th-placed Levante on Thursday.
Karim Benzema had a sighting on goal inside the second minute when a rapid counter saw Lucas Vasquez’s cross deflect into the path of the Frenchman on the edge of the area, but he dragged his effort wide during a cagey first quarter.
Mateo Kovacic almost broke the deadlock with a bullet header from 12 yards after arriving late in the area to attack Vasquez’s floated cross but he was denied by a fine one-handed save by Roberto Jimenez to his right.
A lovely move between Benzema and Isco saw the Spaniard dink a ball through for Vasquez but he should have done better as he blazed his half-volley over the crossbar when well placed as Real ramped up the pressure.
Benzema nodded wide from six yards and the pressure eventually told after 29 minutes when Isco haunted his former side with a sublime free-kick to put Los Blancos ahead.
Referee Ricardo de Burgos penalised Roberto Rosales for a pull on Isco and the the 25-year-old made no mistake from 23 yards to curl the ball over the wall and into the bottom left corner.
Isco was inches from doubling his and Real’s tally just four minutes later with a jinking run into the Malaga area but the Spain international was off target from 12 yards.
Isco warmed the hands of Jimenez with a volley from the edge of the area before Rosales fired a free-kick from range over the crossbar, with Manuel Iturra forcing a great save from Keylor Navas and Ignasi Miquel also blasting over in a strong finish to the half by the hosts.
Real showed their intent at the start of the second half with a great sliderule pass from Kovacic finding Isco in the penalty area, but his cross was expertly headed over his own crossbar by Miquel with Benzema ready to nod home at the far post.
Marco Asensio was next to try his luck but his shot was blocked by a Malaga defender while at the other end, Rolan put in teasing cross to find Brown Ideye but the Nigerian’s shot was straight at Navas.
Real capitalised on the let-off and were soon 2-0 up after 63 minutes when Casemiro intercepted a pass on the halfway line to set Benzema free, who in turn slid Isco through to play a first-time pass for the Brazilian to round off a flowing move.
Sergio Ramos was denied a late third when he tried to finish his own lung-bursting move from box-to-box but his shot was straight at Jimenez before Rolan fired home a consolation from close range.