BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid forwards Gareth Bale and Jese Rodriguez each scored and set up goals for Karim Benzema in a 4-2 win over Villarreal on Saturday, giving the powerhouse a share of the Spanish league lead after Atletico Madrid stumbled to a 2-0 loss at Almeria.
With leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo serving the first of a three-game suspension, Bale stepped up by opening in the seventh minute at the Santiago Bernabeu before he crossed for Benzema's first goal in the 25th.
After Villarreal's Mario Gaspar struck in the 43rd, Jese took what proved to be Madrid's winner in the 64th before Villarreal forward Giovani Dos Santos curled in a free kick in the 69th. Jese found Benzema for his double in the 76th.
If any Madrid supporters were worried how their team would fare without Ronaldo and his league-leading 22 goals, they needn't have as Carlo Ancelotti's side extended its unbeaten streak to 23 games in all competitions.
Instead of struggling, Benzema recorded his 12th and 13th league goals, Bale provided more arguments he was worthy of his world-record transfer, and the 20-year-old Jese gave Madrid's fans more hope they have finally found their next homegrown star.
"It's great to be back on the pitch and get a goal and an assist as well," Bale, who had missed two games with a leg injury, said. "(Cristiano) is obviously missed. He is the world's best player. We knew we had to do the job without him."
Also, Valencia rolled over bottom-side Real Betis 5-0 as it continued to show its turnaround under coach Juan Pizzi, while Rayo Vallecano broke a run of six home losses by humbling 10-man Malaga 4-1 to move to within two points of safety.
Atletico failed to rebound from its 3-0 Copa del Rey defeat at Madrid on Wednesday as it lost for just the second time in 23 league matches in this campaign. It has dropped seven points in the last five rounds.
Almeria stifled its attack and a pair of mistakes by back-up goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia, starting for the injured Thibaut Courtois, doomed Diego Simeone's side.
After Almeria forward Aleix Vidal's shot came off both posts, Aranzubia let Jose "Verza" Garcia's cross fall over his head in the 80th. The veteran goalie compounded that in the 86th by losing the ball to Jonathan Zongo's pressure and earning a questionable red card as he dove to recover the ball.