Real Madrid continued to close the gap on leaders Real Sociedad when they crushed reigning champions Valencia 4-1 at the Bernabeu.

The European Cup holders opened the scoring on 36 minutes through Ronaldo andalthough Robert Ayala headed an equaliser early in the second-half, the vistors were up against it when Pablo Aimar was sent-off midway through the second period.

Zinedine Zidane put the home side ahead four minutes later and with five minutes to go, Guti added a third before substitute Javier Portillo made it four in injury time.

It was Real’s fifth successive league victory and takes them to within three points of leaders Real Sociedad who were held 2-2 by Malaga, despite playing the bulk of the game against ten men.

Real Sociedad remain unbeaten with 36 points from 16 games. Real Madrid stay second on 33 points, with Deportivo La Coruna’s 3-0 winners of Celta Vigo third on 29. Valencia drop to fourth with 28 points.

Elsewhere, Barcelona continue to improve as they moved up to eighth place, still 14 points behind the leaders,after a 3-0 at home to the first division’s bottom club Recreativo Huelva. Goals from Fabio Rochemback, Philip Cocu and an own goal from Loren sealed the win after Recreativo had Paraguayan fullback Nelson Zelaya sent off on 51 minutes.

‘I’m delighted because we scored goals and created a lot of chances,’ said beleaguered Barca boss Louis van Gaal.

‘It was a vital win for us and we now have to look ahead with confidence.’