MADRID • Real Madrid, Barcelona and Celta Vigo have pulled two points clear in the Primera Liga.
Cristiano Ronaldo set a club-scoring record in Real's 3-0 stroll against Levante, while Neymar hit four as Barca beat Rayo Vallecano 5-2, both on Saturday.
Real barely had to shift into top gear at the Bernabeu, where Ronaldo surpassed Raul Gonzalez with his 324th goal in his seventh season in the Spanish capital.
Barca squandered a host of chances, looked shaky in defence and needed a brilliant Neymar performance to come from behind and see off a Rayo side who played attractive attacking football at the Nou Camp.
Five of Ronaldo's most memorable goals for Real
1. Real were trailing 1-2 at home to Valencia heading into the 89th minute of a Primera Liga game in May last year. Angel di Maria lifted the ball across the penalty area and Ronaldo pulled off a kind of reverse karate-kick volley to send the ball into the net past stunned goalkeeper Diego Alves.
2. After the ball spun away from goal at a corner in a La Liga game at Rayo Vallecano in February 2012, Ronaldo was first to react. He chased it down and sent an audacious backheel through a crowd of players into the corner of the net.
3. Ronaldo picked up the ball 30 metres from goal in a La Liga game at Osasuna in March 2012. He took a couple of steps and smashed a shot into the top left corner before famously raising the leg of his shorts and pointing to his bulging right thigh muscle.
4. Real and great rivals Barcelona were locked at 0-0 in extra time of the 2011 King's Cup final in Valencia and heading for penalties. Di Maria whipped a cross over from the left and Ronaldo leapt high above Barca defender Adriano to crash a header past goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto to win the game.
5. Playing against former club Manchester United for the first time since joining Real, Ronaldo rescued a 1-1 draw with another brilliant header in a Champions League last 16, first leg in Madrid in February 2013. Di Maria was again the provider, crossing for the Portuguese to arrow the ball into the corner.
The contrasting victories for Spain's injury-hit big two lifted them to 18 points from eight games. Villarreal, the surprise early front runners, failed to reclaim the lead yesterday after falling 1-2 at home to Celta Vigo. The result puts Celta also on 18 points, behind Real and ahead of Barca on goal difference.
Marcelo fired Real ahead in the 27th minute when he exchanged passes with Ronaldo and blasted the ball past Ruben.
Ronaldo made it 2-0 three minutes later when he cracked a trademark long-range effort into the corner, ending a rare four-match goal drought in Spain's top flight for the Portugal captain, his joint-worst run since he joined Real in 2009.
But it was a night to remember an all-time high. And the scale of Ronaldo's record-breaking achievement is exemplified by the fact he has played 431 fewer games for Madrid than previous record holder and club legend Raul (741).
The Spaniard told Marca that he could not possibly describe the success Ronaldo has enjoyed.
"What Ronaldo does you cannot name. It is on another historic level," said the 38-year-old, who earlier this week announced his decision to retire from football next month after a brief stint with the New York Cosmos. "It is incredible what he has done in only six years, scoring an average of more than 50 goals a season, when it used to be hard for me to reach 20."
Substitute Jese was also on the scoresheet as Real secured a morale-boosting win ahead of Wednesday's Champions League match at Paris Saint-Germain.
"Cristiano took on the responsibility because we lacked forwards," Real coach Rafael Benitez, missing regulars Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos through injury, told a news conference. "He had to lead the team and that's what he did."
Barca, missing talisman Lionel Messi and captain Andres Iniesta, were rocked when Javi Guerra gave Rayo a surprise 15th-minute lead.
Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez had earlier failed to beat Tono when through one-on-one with the Rayo goalkeeper but Barcelona were level in the 22nd minute when Neymar won and converted a penalty.
The Brazil forward, clearly trying to lift the team in Messi's absence, was felled again in the area in the 31st and successfully dispatched his second spot kick.
Barca 'keeper Claudio Bravo had to make several good saves as Rayo came out strongly after the break and the weakness of the European champions' back line will be a worry for coach Luis Enrique ahead of tomorrow's game at Bate Borisov.
Neymar struck in the 69th and 70th minutes to make it 4-1, becoming the first Barca player other than Messi to score four in a match since Samuel Eto'o in 2008, before he crossed for Suarez to clip the ball home 13 minutes from time.
Jozabed took advantage of more poor defending to score Rayo's second in the 86th minute.
"He (Neymar) has been electric since the start of the season," Enrique told a news conference.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE