BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Cristiano Ronaldo turned playmaker to help Real Madrid set a club record with its 16th consecutive victory across all competitions by winning 2-1 at Malaga on Saturday in the Spanish league.
Ronaldo saw his own unprecedented start to the domestic campaign end as he failed to find the net for the first time in 12 league matches, but he more than compensated by setting up Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale for the league leaders.
The Ballon d’Or holder found Benzema in the 18th minute and assisted Bale late before Malaga striker Roque Santa Cruz took advantage of Francisco “Isco” Alarcon’s sending off in the 86th by pulling one back in stoppage time.
“Ronaldo was the key to the match, he was fantastic,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who bettered the previous club mark most recently matched in 2011-12 under predecessor Jose Mourinho. “It feels like a dream. I have deep admiration for my players.”
Madrid was stopped from building a bigger lead early on by Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, who saved close-range shots by Ronaldo, Bale and Isco.
Counterpart Iker Casillas had a shaky showing throughout, spilling three shots. The captain, however, did make a diving save to turn away a free kick with Malaga surging in the final minutes.
“I told my teammates in the changing room that we have passed into the history of Real Madrid,” Casillas said.
Madrid opened up a five-point lead over Barcelona before it visits Valencia on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao remained unbeaten in six rounds after midfielder Benat Etxebarria set up one goal before scoring to secure a 2-1 win at Getafe.
Promoted Eibar continued to impress with a 1-0 victory at Celta Vigo, and Espanyol fought back 2-1 over visitors Levante under heavy rain for its first win in six games.
Benzema put Madrid in front by redirecting a cross after Ronaldo had used a step-over dribble to open up a passing angle from the wing.
Casillas let Sergi Darder’s shot fall between his legs and hit the post in the 23rd before Sergio “Duda” Barbosa sent his free kick off the bar in the 43rd in the hosts’ best opportunities until their late push.
Kameni reserved the best of several saves for the 76th when a defensive gaff let the ball roll to the unmarked Ronaldo, but the former Espanyol goalie anticipated his point-blank try.
“With a little bit of luck we could have gotten more from this game,” Kameni said.
But he could do nothing to stop Bale’s dipping strike in the 83rd after Ronaldo deftly headed the ball on to meet his run, as Malaga’s first home loss left it in sixth place.
Bilbao’s Etxebarria found Mikel San Jose to glance in his corner kick in the 36th. He then curled a free kick inside the post for Bilbao’s second goal in the 90th, before Angel Lafita added suspense to stoppage time with a goal seconds later.
Manu del Moral scored Eibar’s goal in the 31st as it rose to 10th place and kept Celta in seventh.
In Barcelona, Levante’s Jose Morales tapped in a rebound in the 12th. But Felipe Caicedo equalised via the post for Espanyol in the 19th before Sergio Garcia hit from long distance in the 34th.