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
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 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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