Real Madrid took another step towards their first La Liga title in three years by beating free-falling Alaves 2-0 at home on Friday, overcoming a number of high-profile absences to secure their eighth consecutive victory.
Real were missing three of their first-choice defenders as captain Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal were suspended and Marcelo was injured, but they again showed defensive solidity and recorded a fifth consecutive clean sheet.
Thibaut Courtois had to make two smart saves but Madrid were cruising by the end.
Courtois is the first Real goalkeeper to keep 18 clean sheets in a season since 1987-88 and the Belgian became the first Real goalkeeper to manage five clean sheets in a row in La Liga since Iker Casillas in 2007-08. He needs two more clean sheets for Los Blancos to break the record held by Francisco Buyo, who kept 19 clean sheets in 1986-88
After restoring their four-point advantage at the top of the table, the pressure is back on Barcelona. If Barca fail to win away at Real Valladolid on Saturday, Madrid will clinch the title with two games to spare by beating Granada on Monday at Los Carmenes.
Yet even if Madrid have to wait, it seems inevitable they will hoist the trophy given they also have a superior head-to-head against Barcelona with three games left.
"We still don't know what is going to happen," said Zinedine Zidane. "La Liga is very hard and we have three finals still to go."
"The noise about VAR does not bother us, we can only control the attitude we show on the pitch," said defender Raphael Varane. "We are focused on our objective and we have three finals left. It was vital to win and it was important to keep another clean sheet and that gives us a lot of confidence."
Zinedine Zidane's side got off to a comfortable start as Karim Benzema converted from the spot in the 11th minute after Ferland Mendy was judged to have been fouled by Ximo Navarro just as he entered the area.
It was the third game in a row in which Real had broken the deadlock thanks to a penalty and they sealed the win when Benzema turned provider and allowed Marco Asensio to tap into an empty net early in the second half.