A superb early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo and a second-half Kaka penalty gave Real Madrid a 2-0 win at 10-man Villarreal in La Liga on Wednesday.
Real paid around 160 million euros ($236 million) for the Portuguese winger and Brazilian playmaker in the close season, including a world record 94 million euros for Ronaldo, and the gulf in class was evident from the start.
The home side were stunned in the second minute when Ronaldo sped down the left wing, cut inside and struck with a low shot from just outside the penalty area for his fifth league goal in four matches.
Villarreal defender Gonzalo Rodriguez was sent off 10 minutes before the break, earning a second yellow card for catching Kaka in the chest with a reckless flying kick.
The Brazilian stepped up to double Real's lead in the 73rd minute when the referee ruled Angel Lopez had handled Marcelo's cross and Gonzalo Higuain and Ronaldo both went close as Real pressed for a third.
Their fourth win out of four put them level on 12 points with champions Barcelona, who thrashed Racing Santander 4-1 on Tuesday thanks to two goals from Lionel Messi and one apiece from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Pique.
Atletico Madrid conceded an equaliser in the 89th minute to draw 2-2 at home to Almeria on Wednesday and pressure is mounting on coach Abel Resino with his side on just two points from four matches.
Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan missed a first-half penalty for the home side before Almeria took the lead in the 26th minute when Albert Crusat found space on the left and crossed for Pablo Piatti to finish past Roberto.
Cleber Santana equalised shortly after and a defensive error let Forlan in for Atletico's second 10 minutes into the second half.
Piatti then grabbed his second to secure a point for Hugo Sanchez's side and Atletico's players and staff were whistled from the pitch by their disgruntled fans.
Athletic Bilbao were looking for their fourth win of the season at promoted Tenerife in a later game on Wednesday.
Raul sets new league appearance record for Real
Meanwhile, striker Raul set a record for league appearances for Real Madrid, overtaking defender Manolo Sanchis, when he came on as a substitute against Villarreal, the Spanish club said.
The 32-year-old former Spain international replaced Gonzalo Higuain in the 67th minute at the Madrigal and has now appeared for the club 524 times in the league since his debut on Oct. 29 1994 against Real Zaragoza, Real said on their website (www.realmadrid.com).