Owen's strike puts Raul and Ronaldo in the shade

Malaga 0 - Real Madrid 2

Michael Owen made an irrefutable case for his place in the starting line-up at Real Madrid when he came off the bench to score his fifth goal in six outings and secure his side's victory over Malaga last night.

Michael Owen made an irrefutable case for his place in the starting line-up at Real Madrid when he came off the bench to score his fifth goal in six outings and secure his side's victory over Malaga last night.

The England striker brought an otherwise forgettable game to life when he tucked a low left-foot shot inside the near post after cutting inside a defender 11 minutes from the final whistle of the game at La Rosaleda.

With Real coach Mariano Garcia Remon's preferred strike pairing of Ronaldo and Raul doing little to justify their place in the team as they missed a string of gilt-edged scoring opportunities either side of the break, Owen must believe he has done everything within his power to earn himself a place.

"It was nice to score and even better to get a win here at Malaga," was Owen's typically understated verdict on his performance. "I was disappointed but not angry to be on the bench as it's always nicer to start the games, but it's a long season and I always respect the manager's decision as I understand only 11 players can play at any one time."

Real's toothless display in attack meant they were unable to break the deadlock until Zinedine Zidane manufactured a penalty when he was brought down by Malaga defender Gerardo on the fringe of the area in the 24th minute. Luis Figo converted the spot-kick with his usual efficiency, sending Juan Calatayud the wrong way.

Ronaldo, however, was in a particularly wasteful mood and it was not until he was replaced by Owen 20 minutes from time that Real recovered their spark in attack. Controlling a pass from Michel Salgado with his chest, the former Liverpool striker lost his man with a quick shimmy and step inside and drilled home.

The win put Real into second place in the table, a distant seven points behind Barcelona, who claimed an impressive 2-1 win over Deportivo La Coruña at the Nou Camp on Saturday.

"It's nice for the team to be up into second spot," said Owen but it's not perfect and hopefully we will be at the very top soon."

Real will face their biggest test of the season when they meet the in-form Catalans at the Nou Camp in two weeks' time.

Goals: Figo (24) 0-1, Owen (79) 0-2.

Malaga (4-4-2): Calatayud; Gerardo, Juanito, Sanz, Valcarce; Manu, Romero (Duda 67), Miguel Angel, Leko; Amoroso (Edgar 67, Geijo 73), Wanchope.

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Salgado, Helguera, Pavon, Roberto Carlos; Figo (Solari 77), Celades, Guti, Zidane; Raul (Morientes 80), Ronaldo (Owen 71).

Referee: E Iturralde Gonzalez

Attendance: 17,000.

¿ Valencia continued their miserable run of form when they were beaten 1-0 at La Liga newcomers Getafe yesterday. Claudio Ranieri's side have not won in nine outings in all competitions.

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