Real Madrid rain on Rayo's parade in Vallecas
Gareth Bale and substitute Lucas Vázquez led Real to a 3-2 victory in Vallecas to keep the side's title hopes alive. Karim Benzema limped off in the first half.
Real Madrid performed a great escape in the Estadio de Vallecas on Saturday afternoon, coming back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Rayo 3-2 and temporarily rise to the top of the Liga table, pending results in the Calderón and Camp Nou later in the day.
The hosts came out of the blocks with gusto and took a deserved lead through Adrián Embarba and by the quarter-hour mark had doubled their advantage when Miku reacted quickest to a loose ball in the area. Real's defence, lacking Sergio Ramos who was on the bench with Manchester City in mind, were completely caught off guard by Rayo's approach. For both Rayo goals the visitors' marking was slapdash and as the rain poured down on Vallecas Real's title hopes seemed destined to be washed away until Gareth Bale rose to meet a Danilo cross and expertly guided a header past Juan Carlos.
Rayo took a one goal advantage into the break and despite the best efforts of Bale, Real's only noteworthy contributor in the first, but it was the introduction of Lucas Vázquez that saw the visitors' attack begin to click into gear. The canterano replaced Karim Benzema, who added to Real's injury concerns ahead of the Champions League clash on Tuesday when he limped off just before half time, and his tireless running caused Rayo some serious problems at the back. Vázquez levelled the match with a towering header and was, with Bale in cahoots, the fulcrum of every dangerous move Real mustered.
Luka Modric's introduction on the hour mark lent Real some much-needed pause in midfield, where Mateo Kovacic had done little to endear himself to his manager. This was the Croatian's first start since his calamitous showing in Las Palmas and once again, Kovacic was loose in possession and made some bizarre choices with the ball at his feet, at one point hitting it from inside the six-yard box into an ocean of green on the far side.
But it was Bale and Vázquez who stole the show, the two showing an innate understanding on several occasions as the Spaniard timed his runs into the area to meet the Welshman's crosses. Only Rayo's astute defending deprived Vázquez of a second goal. Real's third eventually came when Bale was alert to a misplaced Rayo pass, latching onto the ball, charging towards goal and firing low and true past Juan Carlos.
Rayo still had a sting in their tail and troubled the Real backline until the end, Miku's stoppage time shot ricocheting off a defender and out to the relief of Navas. It was a performance full of grit from the home side and from Real, who dug deep to maintain their interest in the destination of the Liga trophy for another week.
Rayo v Real Madrid, as it happened
Full time! What an escape for Real Madrid, who take the three points with a 3-2 win.
Min 93 | Crespo gets on the end of a Bebé cross but his header is soft and straight into the grateful arms of Navas.
Min 92 | Vázquez leads the Rayo back four a merry dance to run down the clock a bit.
Min 90 | Rayo still believe! Miku gets a shot off after good build-up play and it's behind for a corner.
Min 88 | Some Rayo fans leaving the Estadio de Vallecas, which given the balance of this match is a little premature. Rayo win a free kick in midfield as they try to push Real back and seek an equalizer. Four minutes added on.
Min 85 | Vázquez again turns on the afterburners and tears down the Rayo left, but Quini is able to stay with him and bundle the energetic Real midfielder off the ball.
Min 83 | Having said that, Bale gives his troublesome calf a little rub.
Min 81 | Under the circumstances, you have to wonder where Real would be today had Bale's golfing mishap ruled him out of this match as well. The Welshman has been excellent.
Min 80 | Goooooooooal! Bale nicks the ball in midfield, gallops down the left and leathers it past Juan Carlos to make it 3-2!
Min 78 | A glorious ball from Marcelo finds Isco, who lays off with a cheeky flick, but James is a yard behind it. The Colombian would have been clean through and he had support on the right.
Min 75 | Bale wins a free kick on the edge of the area and problems for Rayo as Tito is stretchered off. Kovacic trots to the touchline to be replaced by James Rodríguez.
Min 74 | Vázquez, who with Bale has provided the spark for Real this afternoon, skips past a defender into the area but the Rayo defence holds firm and clear the danger. Real could do worse than just get the ball to the canterano's feet at the moment.
Min 73 | Bale and Vázquez combine again but the Rayo defence clear. The hosts are getting forward as well as the game becomes a real end-to-end job. Good vaule entertainment for the crowd, this.
Min 70 | Kroos and Modric not on the same wavelength there, the German watching a pass from the Croatian fall to the opposition, who get forward and test Navas' reactions from distance but the shot was straight at the Real keeper and easily gathered.
Min 69 | Kovacic and Amaya clatter into each other accidentally and both go down in considerable pain. They're ok to continue though.
Min 67 | Vázquez goes on a mazy run after winning possession in his own half and is scythed down by Iturra, who finds his name in the ref's book. Vázquez is off for a fresh shirt, his neckline is gaping open after he was manhandled. He was in full flight, the wee man.
Min 65 | A bit of confusion in the Real area there as Tito takes the ball to the byline and puts in a cross. Everybody, Rayo atackers and Real defenders, had pretty much stopped as the ball appeared to clear the byline before Tito slung it in. Kovacic goes in the book for a challenge in midfield.
Min 62 | Zidane makes his first change, Luka Modric coming on to replace Jesé. Kovacic was doing the old "don't look and it won't be me" routine there. Jesé is probably more deserving of a longer stay on the turf this afternoon.
Min 60 | Bale, whose shoulders will hurt after all the carrying he's done this afternoon, gets away down the right and fires a cross in towards Vázquez but the home defence do just enough to put him off his stride and the chance comes to nothing.
Min 59 | Jesé bursts through but fires his shot straight at Juan Carlos from a tight angle.
Min 56 | Bale buys himself a yard in the area but his shot is blocked.
Min 54 | Double change for Rayo, Javi Guerra on for Pablo Hernández and Iturra for Jozabed.
Min 53 | Isco steps up but fires just wide of the upright.
Min 52 | Free kick on the edge of the Rayo area...
Min 51 | Gooooooooal! Vázquez makes a tremendous leap to head past Juan Carlos and level the match. 2-2 in Vallecas.
Min 49 | Kovacic can't pick out a pass in a mountain range today. The Croatian tries to open up play on the left but his ball is neither here nor there and Rayo clear.
Min 47 | Real seem a little more composed after the break and patiently build a move, but Vázquez's cross is a little overcooked and goes straight out.
Second half! The rain has stopped and the teams are back out. Zidane and Paco are back in their suits for the second period, the Frenchman looking every inch the Mango model as he flicks his cuffs in anticipation.
Half Time! Hernández Hernández gives the pea a blast and the teams head off to the tunnel. Zidane has a ponderous look on his face as he heads to the dressing room. 2-1 to Rayo at the break.
Min 44 | Rayo are looking to take the edge off at the end of the half, content to keep Real at arm's length and wait for the whistle.
Min 41 | Further problems for Real as Karim Benzema trudges off, looks like the Frenchman has a niggle. Vázquez is on to replace him as Bale gives Juan carlos something to think about with a curling effort from distance. Real's best player of the half by a country mile, the Wales forward.
Min 40 | Bebé appears to have switched flanks now, which is not a bad idea given Marcelo's positional awareness.
Min 38 | Rayo carve out another chance, Trashorras finding Embarba completely unattended to at the far post but the Rayo forward can't tame the fizzing cross and his header goes into orbit.
Min 36 | Marcelo wriggles through three Ray defenders with some neat footwork and fires just wide from the edge of the area. The resulting corner comes to nothing but this is better from the visitors, who have Lucas Vázquez limbering up on the touchline.
Min 34 | Goooooooooal! Bale gives the Rayo defence the slip and glances a header past Juan carlos to make it 2-1.
Min 33 | There is no cohesion to Real's play as panic appears to be setting in. The visitors know they can't afford to drop points today. It would be no surprise to see Luka Modric after the break.
Min 30 | Half an hour gone in Vallecas and Real are 2-0 down, Rayo much the better side at the moment. The visitors haven't troubled Juan Carlos at all and now Kovacic, a yard from goal, manages to spray the ball to the other side of the pitch, where none of his teammates were. Zidane will be desperate for half time.
Min 28 | Real are huffing and puffing, Kroos getting a move going but Jesé can't pull the trigger in time and Bale eventually gets a head on the ball but it's bread and butter for Juan Carlos.
Min 26 | Navas! Marcelo loses the ball in the Rayo half and Rayo launch another break, Bebé eventually pings one Navas' way and the Real keeper pulls off a Hollywood save. Real are in bits at the moment.
Min 21 | It's just like watching Brazil! Rayo break cleanly and incisively, swift passes to feet cutting a swath through the Real midfield. Embarba almost gets on the end of the move but Navas is out quickly and courageously and the Rayo player gets a clattering for his efforts.
Min 20 | Bebé is running amok down the Real right, no visiting player is comfortable on the back foot against the Rayo winger.
Min 18 | Rayo are oozing confidence now and Trashorras has a pop from distance, the ball going out for a corner. Bale is under it though and he cuts out the second cross as well. Bebé then blasts one wide.
Min 16 | Both Paco Jémez and Zinedine Zidane have hoods, but neither man is going to blink first and pop one on. Benzema finds himself in space on the left but is called offside.
Min 13 | Gooooooooooal! Miku pounces in the area as Real's back four dither and strokes the ball past Navas. 2-0 to Rayo! The defence was completely static there. A lot of work for Real to do now.
Min 11 | Robero Trashorras hits a long ball into touch and Real build a move from the back. Karim Benzema attempts an overhead but it's high. It seemed as though the Frenchman thought he was offside but the linesman's flag stayed down.
Min 8 | A Pepe back pass leaves Navas in a spot of bother and the Costa Rica stopper belts it into the crowd. Real are a little rattled and the game bears a striking similarity to the opening exchanges of the reverse fixture at the moment.
Min 7 | Goooooooal! Bebé embarks on a run down the left and feeds Embarba, who slots it home past the despairing dive of Navas and Marcelo's attempted goal line heroics. The Real defence left the Rayo man in acres of space there.
Min 5 | Good work from Toni Kroos sparks a Real attack but Karim Benzema can't dig the ball out on the edge of the area. It's hammering it down in Vallecas now, which may suit the home side more.
Min 3 | Woodwork! Bale fires off a shot after some decent build-up play and it ricochets off the bottom of Juan Carlos' upright.
Welcome to AS English's live build up and coverage of the Liga BBVA match between Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid, at the Vallecas Stadium.
Real Madrid's domestic campaign appeared to be all-but over a few weeks ago when Barcelona hael a nine-point lead at the top of the table. However, victory in the Clásico proved to be more than a consolation for Zinedine Zidane’s side as Barça subsequently stumbled to successive defeats against Real Sociedad and Valencia. Ahead of Saturday’s game Real are one point behind the joint leaders and will go top of the table with a win, with Atlético playing immediately afterwards and Barcelona in action later on Sunday.
Zidane will have to make do without Cristiano Ronaldo, who picked up a muscle strain in the midweek victory over Villarreal. The Portuguese has never failed to score in Vallecas and the onus for creativity on the left flank will likely pass to Gareth Bale, who has recovered from the niggle he managed to suffer while playing a round of golf last weekend. On the right, Lucas Vázquez has done everything to lead Zidane to the conclusion that the cantera product should be Real’s 12th man, while the absence of Casemiro may hand Mateo Kovacic a rare chance to get his socks dirty.
Paco Jémez’s side will be without on-loan Real defender Diego Llorente, who is contractually prevented from playing, with defensive midfielder Raúl Baena and winger Piti out injured.
The last time the sides met the game ended in a lopsided 10-2 victory for Real, but for the first 15 minute Rayo were by far the better side and led 2-1 when the referee correctly dismissed Tito for a studs-up chop on Toni Kroos, but the match essentially ended as a contest when Raúl Baena followed in the 28th minute for a second caution after tugging Sergio Ramos’shirt in the box.
Rayo have won their last two home games and almost snatched a win in La Rosaleda in midweek, only to be denied by a stoppage time equalizer from the home side.
Real are on a run of eight consecutive Liga victories, during which Zidane’s side have scored 30 and conceded five.
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Kovacic, Isco; Bale, Benzema, Jesé.
Rayo: Juan Carlos; Quini, Amaya, Crespo, Tito; Jozabed, Trashorras, Embarba, Pablo, Bebé; Miku.
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