MADRID, April 17 (Reuters) -
Ten-man Real Madrid got their title bid back on track after
goals from Santiago Solari and Ivan Helguera gave them a
battling 2-1 win at city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Real, who have five games left,
lead the table on 70 points. Second-placed Valencia, with 69
points, have the advantage on head-to-head meetings and can
return to the top if they get at least a draw at home to Real
Sociedad on Sunday.
Former Atletico midfielder
Solari put Real ahead with just five minutes on the clock but
Veljko Paunovic equalised with a penalty early in the second
half after substitute Demis Nikolaidis was brought down by
defender Francisco Pavon.
The centre-back was sent off for
his troubles and Atletico looked as though they might make the
most of their numerical advantage but it was Real who snatched
the victory when Helguera headed in from a corner 13 minutes
"The victory gives us a real
confidence boost and a lot of motivation for the forthcoming
games," said Real coach Carlos Queiroz, who has been under
intense pressure following his side's recent poor run of form.
Real play arch-rivals Barcelona
at the Bernabeu Stadium in their next league match.
Earlier, Champions League
semi-finalists Deportivo Coruna effectively waved goodbye to
their title hopes with a 1-1 draw at home to Valladolid also on
Saturday that left them in a distant third place with 61 points.
Fourth-placed Barcelona are a
point behind the Galicians, but will move ahead of them if they
win their tricky home game against Malaga at the Nou Camp on
Both Real and Atletico had to do
without their first-choice strikers as they took the pitch at
the Calderon, Ronaldo missing out with a thigh injury while
Fernando Torres was sidelined because of a suspension.
But Real hardly seemed to miss
the Brazilian international as they took an early lead against
Luis Figo rode two challenges as
he jinked towards the area and slipped a pass out left towards
the unmarked Solari, who beat Santiago Aragoneses with a low
shot at the near post.
With Real coach Carlos Queiroz
pushing centre-back Helguera into midfield alongside David
Beckham in preference to his usual partner Guti, the visitors
appeared far more aggressive than in recent games and gave
Atletico little time on the ball.
But the game changed direction
at the start of the second half with the appearance of Atletico
The Greek international got
ahead of Pavon in his first action of the game and the Real
defender pushed him over as he struggled to regain his position.
Paunovic coolly slotted home the
spot kick while Pavon trudged towards the changing rooms.
Atletico then took control and
had two gilt-edged chances to snatch the winner in the next 20
Substitute Jorge was put clear
by a sharp through-ball but Real keeper Iker Casillas stood his
ground and blocked the midfielder's low shot, while Paunovic hit
the post four minutes later.
But it was Real who stole the
victory when Helguera headed in from close range after
Aragoneses failed to gather a Figo corner as he appeared to be
fouled by Raul.
Defeat for Atletico means they
lose valuable ground in the race for a UEFA Cup place and remain
seventh on 48 points.
Athletic Bilbao took an
important step towards booking their place in Europe with a 4-0
win over nine-man Real Zaragoza at San Mames that moved them up
one place to fifth on 51 points.