MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo set up a goal and scored another in a three-minute span on Saturday to help Real Madrid defeat Levante 3-0 and take the provisional lead in the Spanish league.
Ronaldo set up Marcelo’s goal in the 27th minute and scored his own with a well-placed right-footed shot from just outside the area in the 30th, allowing Madrid to surpass Villarreal atop the standings.
Substitute Jese Rodriguez closed the scoring in the 81st.
Madrid reached 18 points from eight matches, two points more than Villarreal, which hosts third-place Celta on Sunday.
Defending champion Barcelona, still without Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta because of injuries, has a chance to join Madrid with 18 points when it hosts Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou later Saturday.
Real Madrid got the win despite playing with a depleted squad because of injuries. Coach Rafa Benitez was without defender Sergio Ramos, midfielder Luka Modric and striker Karim Benzema, who had scored six goals in as many league games this season.
“We can take a lot of positives out of today’s game,” Benitez said. “We won 3-0 despite all the problems that we were facing and we leave with the team ahead (in the standings).”
Madrid was coming off two consecutive draws in the Spanish league, including a disappointing scoreless result against lowly Malaga in its last game at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Left back Marcelo opened the scoring after a nice give-and-go play with Ronaldo, who fed the Brazilian inside the area for a left-footed shot into the far corner.
Ronaldo added to the lead less than three minutes later from the top of the area, using two quick touches to set up a firm low shot that just barely beat Levante goalkeeper Ruben Martinez.
“We were missing a lot of people and Cristiano took on the responsibility,” Benitez said.
It was Ronaldo’s sixth league goal and 11th in all competitions this season.
According to UEFA, it was Ronaldo’s 324th goal with Madrid, allowing him to surpass Raul Gonzalez’s mark as the club’s all-time leading scorer, but Madrid credited its player with the feat when he scored in a game last month.
Rodriguez sealed the score on Saturday by clearing a defender inside the area and firing a left-footed shot into the top of the net.
Although Madrid dominated from the start under steady rain at the Bernabeu, Levante had a few good chances on counterattacks. But Keylor Navas was outstanding in goal again, making a few very difficult saves, including a remarkable one on a close-range header in the first half.
Forward Gareth Bale, who was coming off an injury, was substituted at halftime.
Levante has only six points from eight matches and could drop to last place in the 20-teaam standings depending on other results this weekend.