Javier Hernandez scored twice as Real Madrid fought back for a thrilling 4-2 win at Celta Vigo on Sunday to keep the pressure on Spanish league leader Barcelona.
Four days after Hernandez’s late goal put Madrid into the Champions League semifinals, the Mexico striker struck a brace to help an injury-depleted Madrid hold off Celta’s vigorous challenge and stay two points behind Barcelona with five rounds left.
Celta forward Manuel ”Nolito” Agudo scored in the ninth minute to start a five-goal flurry in the first half.
Goals from Toni Kroos and Hernandez put Madrid ahead, Celta’s Santi Mina equalized for 2-2 and James Rodriguez restored Madrid’s advantage in the 44th.
With Celta pressing forward after the restart, Hernandez used a superb touch to control Sergio Ramos’ pass before netting in the 69th to secure victory.
Hernandez had struggled to find minutes this season since arriving on loan from Manchester United, but he has made the utmost of his last two starts since Karim Benzema went down with a leg injury. His 88th-minute goal on Wednesday eliminated Atletico Madrid and put Madrid into the final four of Europe’s top club competition.
”I wasn’t having a good time, and now I am enjoying this moment. I love being on the pitch,” Hernandez said. ”I’m happy for the people close to me, those who told me that I had to have faith that my time would come.”
Also on Sunday, Sevilla beat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 thanks to goals from Vicente Iborra and Daniel Carrico to provisionally move past Valencia into fourth place.
Almeria moved out of the relegation zone by beating struggling Eibar 2-0, its second consecutive home win under new coach Sergi Barjuan, while Deportivo took its place in the bottom three after drawing 1-1 at Malaga.
With six attacking players in its starting 11, coach Eduardo Berizzo’s lineup left no secret that Celta was looking to outscore its star-studded rivals.
The goals soon arrived as Celta attacked in waves, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates with lots of room to run rampant on the other end.
”When they play like that they leave open a lot of space, and when Madrid has space it is much more dangerous,” Rodriguez said. ”I think we are the deserved winners. These three points put us in the position to fight until the end.”
Celta, which beat Madrid here 2-0 last season and gave Barcelona fits in a 1-0 loss earlier this month, got out to an electric start.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was also without the injured Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, handing a chance to little-used midfielder Asier Illarramendi.
Illarramendi was soon exposed when he lost the ball in attack, and sprinted back only to watch Nolito dribble between him and Dani Carvajal before driving in a low strike.
Rodriguez helped Madrid hit right back with two goals to quiet down the Balaidos Stadium.
The Colombian played Ronaldo through and his squared pass deflected off a Celta defender before falling for Kroos to blast into the corner of the net in the 16th minute.
Hernandez then exchanged passes with Rodriguez before slotting the ball under goalie Sergio Alvarez in the 24th.
Mina leveled four minutes later when Fabian Orellana met his run with a perfectly timed pass, and the 19-year-old striker did the rest by finishing off the rebound after his initial shot hit the post.
The constant back-and-forth continued as Joaquin Larrivey tested Madrid goalie Iker Casillas before Ronaldo hit the post in the 41st.
Ronaldo then spotted Rodriguez arriving unmarked, and the midfielder struck a shot that grazed the inside of Andreu Fontas’ leg before trickling inside the upright.
Celta started the second half just like the first, with midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli directing its attack. The hosts mounted nine dangerous incursions in the first 20 minutes that kept Madrid under pressure.
Soon after that, Hernandez sealed the win.
”Am I happy (with how we played)? No. I don’t even like losing at Parcheesi, “said Nolito, referring to the board game. ”We tried competing with them, but their fourth goal killed us.”