MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos struck twice within eight first-half minutes to get the European champions back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Malaga at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday (Jan 21).
Madrid's 40-game unbeaten run had come to a crashing halt with back-to-back defeats to Sevilla and Celta Vigo in the past week, but after a nervy start Ramos ensured they opened up a four-point gap at the top of the table.
Ramos opened the scoring with a towering header from a Toni Kroos corner on 35 minutes.
And the Spanish international soon took his career tally to 50 La Liga goals by bundling home another Kroos delivery despite standing in an offside position.
Juanpi got Malaga back into the game just after the hour mark and could even have snatched a point but for a fine save from Keylor Navas to deny Chory Castro soon after.
Second-placed Sevilla and Barcelona, a further point adrift in third, can close the gap when they travel to Osasuna and Eibar respectively on Sunday.
Whilst Ramos was riding to Real's rescue, Cristiano Ronaldo endured another forgetful afternoon in front of goal and was even whistled by the Madrid fans early on after a sluggish start to 2017.
Ronaldo shot straight at Carlos Kameni with just the Cameroonian to beat and Karim Benzema headed just over as Madrid started brightly.
However, the hosts suffered an early injury blow when left-back Marcelo limped off with a thigh injury and could have been behind midway through the first half when Castro's driven effort came back off the post.
Ignacio Camacho was also inches away from giving the visitors the lead when his backpost header flew across the Madrid goal.
However, Ramos looked to have settled Real's nerves when he leapt highest to power home Kroos's outswinging corner 10 minutes before the break.
And eight minutes later Ramos had his eighth goal of the season, albeit in scrappier fashion, as he appeared to be offside when tapping home Kroos's low free-kick.
Malaga are yet to register a point in three games under new boss Marcelo Romero since former Tottenham Hotspur manager Juande Ramos's surprise December resignation.
Yet they didn't let their heads go down and were back in the game 18 minutes into the second half when Juankar's initial effort was well saved and Juanpi tucked home the rebound.
Seconds later Navas was called into action to prevent Malaga equalising as Castro tore through the Madrid defence and his powerful effort was turned to safety by the Costa Rican.
At the other end Kameni nearly gifted Real the breathing space they craved as a harmless backpass rolled under his foot, but he recovered just in time to clear off the line and then deny Ronaldo's follow-up effort.
And a frustrating afternoon for Ronaldo was rounded off 14 minutes from time when his sweetly struck volley came back off the post before Kameni got down low to again deny the reigning World Player of the Year for a third time late on.