Ronaldo nails 2 penalties as Real Madrid beats Valencia 4-1

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Ronaldo nails 2 penalties as Real Madrid beats Valencia 4-1
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos, left, celebrates after toni scoring Valencia against during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties in the first half to lead Real Madrid past Valencia 4-1 on Saturday, intensifying their fight for third place in the Spanish league.

Madrid’s first victory in five away matches in the league takes some pressure off coach Zinedine Zidane following his team’s shock elimination from the Copa del Rey quarterfinals by Leganes on Wednesday.

Madrid, which still has a match in hand, remained in fourth place but closed to within two points of Valencia in third. Madrid trails leader Barcelona by a massive 16 points before the pacesetter hosts Alaves on Sunday.

Zidane started the strike trio of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale for the first time this season, but Madrid’s best attack turned out to be the reckless defending by Valencia right back Martin Montoya.

Ronaldo converted his first penalty in the 16th after he led a counterattack from a Valencia corner kick starting in the other area that was stopped only when Montoya fouled the Madrid forward in the box.

Montoya gifted Ronaldo the chance to get a second goal in the 38th after he slammed into Benzema from behind while the two jumped to dispute a ball inside the area.

Ronaldo converted the resulting spot kick to take his tally to eight goals in the league, half of which have come in the last two rounds.

Santi Mina headed in Dani Parejo’s corner kick to pull one back for the hosts in the 59th and Valencia pressed for a second.

Madrid needed goalkeeper Keylor Navas to use his foot to parry Parejo’s strike that caught him falling the other way, to protect its lead before Marcelo put it beyond doubt with six to play.

Marcelo combined with substitute Marco Asensio to penetrate the area before firing under goalkeeper Neto.

Toni Kroos added a fourth goal with a shot from the edge of the area in the 90th.