Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties as Real Madrid struck an emphatic 4-1 victory over Valencia and eased the pressure on Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane’s position as coach has come under intense scrutiny, with Real languishing fourth in LaLiga, but his side rose to the occasion at the Mestalla to secure a morale-boosting win.
Ronaldo twice converted from the spot to put the European champions in charge and, while Santi Mina’s second-half header gave Valencia hope, a late double from Marcelo and the excellent Toni Kroos put the result beyond doubt.
Victory moves Real to within two points of Valencia in third and reduces the gap behind league leaders Barcelona to a still-sizeable 16.
This performance was a show of faith in Zidane, who will hope it sparks a timely revival ahead of next month’s gargantuan last-16 meeting with Paris St Germain in the Champions League.
Zidane has admitted his future may well depend on the outcome of that tie and Real beating an in-form Valencia at least proves they are still capable of delivering when it matters most.
Their shock Copa del Rey loss to Leganes in midweek came after Zidane chose to rest key players but Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were both restored to the side.
Mina and Rodrigo both started for Valencia while new signing from Arsenal, Francis Coquelin, was picked in central defence.
Bale had the first sight of goal when a mix-up between Neto and Ezequiel Garay allowed the Welshman a chance but he volleyed straight at the goalkeeper.
Rodrigo fired a shot over for Valencia before Martin Montoya made the first of his two errors by chopping down Ronaldo in the box, after the Portuguese had made a neat exchange with Marcelo on the break.
Ronaldo slotted home from the spot for his 100th penalty converted of his career and Real’s first away goal in the league since October.
Geoffrey Kondogbia’s long-range drive forced Keylor Navas into a full-stretch save but the home side were again undone when Montoya this time bundled into Karim Benzema in the box.
Ronaldo this time switched corner but the end result was the same.
Valencia thought they might have had a penalty themselves when Casemiro brought Daniel Parejo down but their appeals were waved away.
There was a lifeline, however, 13 minutes into the second half as Mina nipped in behind Nacho and headed home from a corner.
The goal prompted a sustained period of pressure for the hosts, who looked certain to level when Parejo found space but his finish was brilliantly denied by the foot of Navas.
Valencia had the momentum but failed to capitalise and they were punished twice in the final 10 minutes.
First, Marco Asensio laid on Marcelo to crash home a third before Kroos beat Neto from distance with one minute left to add some late gloss to the victory.