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Raul, Robben keep Real on course

CLINICAL strikes from captain Raul and winger Arjen Robben gave Real Madrid a 2-0 home win over Real Valladolid on Sunday that trimmed Barcelona's lead at the top back to six points.

Leader Barcelona had put pressure on the champion with Saturday's 2-0 victory over Recreativo Huelva at the Nou Camp that moved it nine clear overnight on 75 points.

Real's 13th win in 14 matches since a 0-2 loss to Barcelona in December puts it on 69 with eight matches remaining, 12 ahead of third-placed Sevilla, which lost 0-1 to visiting Getafe.

Valencia moved one point above Villarreal into fourth on 49 after Juan Mata's superb late goal gave it a 3-2 win at Sporting Gijon and Atletico Madrid leapfrogged Malaga into sixth on 46, thanks to a 2-1 win at eighth-placed Deportivo Coruna.

Real made a sluggish start at the Bernabeu and struggled to break down a disciplined Valladolid side.

A fine piece of skill from Gonzalo Higuain was the catalyst for the opening goal shortly before halftime.

The Argentine lifted the ball between two defenders and crossed for Raul to divert the ball high past Sergio Asenjo.

The visitors had chances to level but Real made sure of the points with around 10 minutes left when substitute Guti clipped the ball over the top for Robben to run through and finish low into the bottom right corner.

Real's only chance of silverware this season is a possible third straight league title and coach Juande Ramos said his side had no margin for error in the final weeks of the season.

"We did not play brilliantly today, that's for sure," the former Sevilla and Tottenham Hotspur boss said at a news conference. "But we are stopping Barcelona from wrapping up the league and if they are not careful we'll be waiting."

In Sevilla, Getafe midfielder Jaime Gavilan burst clear in the 82nd minute and rifled the winner past Andres Palop. The relegation-threatened visitors rode their luck in the final minutes when strikers Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano both saw efforts come back off the post.

Valencia twice surrendered the lead in Gijon before Spain international Mata blasted a long-range shot past Inaki Lafuente with three minutes remaining. The win means Valencia overtake Villarreal after the Champions League quarterfinalists lost 0-2 at home to Malaga on Saturday, a third defeat in four domestic matches.

Elsewhere, Sergio Aguero's deft chip over onrushing Depor goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia shortly before halftime and Simao Sabrosa's second-half strike secured three points for Atletico at the Riazor.

Jose Maria Nogues had a successful start in his first match in charge at Real Betis since replacing sacked Paco Chaparro last week, the Andalucians winning 3-2 at Racing Santander to move up to 13th.


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