|Victory for Real increases the pressure on leaders Barcelona, who are coming off a shock Champions League loss [AFP]
Real Madrid closed the gap on rivals Barcelona with a straightforward win over Levante at the Bernabeu on Saturday, moving to within two points of the Primera Division champions.
Real were able to rest players in their 2-0 victory as Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the sixth minute and Ricardo Carvalho sealed the win four minutes from half-time.
The result increases the pressure on the Spanish champions who host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, after they suffered a league draw and a European Champions League defeat last week.
Real’s win also extended coach Jose Mourinho's nine-year unbeaten run at home.
The last time the former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager lost at his home ground was when FC Porto fell to Beira Mar 3-2 in February 2002.
Barcelona have 62 points and Real are on 60, while third-placed Valencia slipped further behind on 48 after they were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Sporting Gijon earlier in the day.
Closing the gap
"We have done our job, and now it is their turn to respond,'' Real defender Sergio Ramos said.
With the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 match against Lyon set for Tuesday, Mourinho rested midfielder Xabi Alonso, defender Pepe and striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who came on late as a substitute.
Goalkeeper Antonio Adan also made his first start in Spain's top division with Real captain Iker Casillas serving a one-game suspension.
Even though Real had routed Levante 8-0 in their last meeting in the Spanish capital in the Copa del Rey, Levante had drawn with Real in their first league fixture and won the second leg of their Copa del Rey match, proving to be a thorn in the side of Mourinho's squad this campaign.
Benzema, who had lost his spot in the starting 11 with Adebayor's arrival in January, wasted little time in putting Real ahead when Di Maria dribbled through three defenders before crossing for the France striker to redirect into goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo grazed the top of the goal with a header in the 16th, and Levante goalkeeper Gustavo Munua made two excellent saves from shots by Di Maria and Benzema in the 22nd and 24th as the hosts pressed to put the game away.
But it was centre back Carvalho who slid unmarked into the six-yard box to stab home Ronaldo's free kick after Di Maria had provoked a foul on the left edge of the box.
Munua denied Real a third goal with back-to-back saves from a header by Ronaldo and a hard volley by Benzema in the 65th.
Ronaldo kept firing away, but Munua was there to block the Portuguese forward's two clear attempts late in the contest.
At Mestalla, Sporting, who had ended Barca's 16-match winning streak with a 1-1 draw last weekend, put in another disciplined display to deny Valencia.
Unai Emery's side, perhaps feeling the effects of a midweek Champions League 1-1 draw at home to Schalke 04, failed to put much pressure on Sporting's goal until the final minutes.
A fierce drive from substitute Jonas was straight at the keeper at the end, sealing a frustrating night for the home side, who had earlier had striker Aritz Aduriz carried off with an ankle injury.