Gareth Bale returns from injury to lift Real Madrid to the top of the league
Faultless footwork nets results as Welsh winger comes back to action with a goal and an assist
Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale had a perfect return to action after three games out through injury, with a goal and an assist as Los Blancos moved to the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Madrid's 4-2 win over Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu coupled with Atletico Madrid's 2-0 defeat at Almeria allowed Real to go above Atletico just three days after they had also dealt Diego Simeone's side a 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.
Bale opened the scoring with his 11th goal of the season before teeing up Karim Benzema to make it 2-0 in the first 25 minutes.
Jese Rodriguez and Benzema, with his second, rounded off the scoring for the hosts after the break, while Mario Gaspar and Giovani Dos Santos scored two brilliant consolation goals for Villarreal.
Real are now unbeaten in 23 games stretching back to October and Bale believes the results show he and his teammates are enjoying their games.
"We managed to get three important points. I am very happy with my goal, but the important thing is that the team won and that we put pressure on our rivals for the title," he told Real Madrid TV.
"The team are doing very well and we are enjoying ourselves on the pitch. The proof of that is in the results."
A key figure in Real's unbeaten run has been midfielder Luka Modric and the former Spurs' man received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu crowd after another stellar performance on Saturday.
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti said after the game that Modric fully deserved the praise he had received of late, but the Croatian insists the plaudits will not go to his head.
"They were three very important points for us, above all, after the difficult game we had against Atletico that left us very tired physically and mentally. We played a great game against a very difficult team in Villarreal.
"I am very proud that the fans sang my name. It is incredible and I feel very at home here. But, as I have said on previous occasions, the important thing is that the team is playing very well and winning. We will continue to work hard to continue like this."
It was a night of contrasting emotions for the sides from the Spanish capital as Atletico lost for just the second time in the league this season to relegation threatened Almeria.
Simeone's men were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to injury and the Belgian's presence was sorely missed as replacement Daniel Aranzubia endured a nightmare evening.
The former Deportivo la Coruna keeper was badly at fault as he flapped at Verza's opener for Almeria 10 minutes from time and he was then sent off just six minutes later for bundling over Jonathan Zongo inside the area.
Verza doubled his tally with ease from the spot to ensure Real would go top on goal difference, but Simeone refused to make excuses for the injury problems that have blighted his side in recent weeks.
"We lost, the opposition did a great job and we congratulate them for that. The only way in which we know how to continue as we have been is to work hard and that is what we are going to do," said Simeone.