When the whistle blew in the Estadio de Vallecas, it was met with a huge outpouring of joy from Real Madrid fans. The television cameras panned to Marco Asensio, Luka Modric and Vinicius embracing on the touchline, having been substituted, before the whole team followed suit. A 1-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano probably shouldn’t be that much of a big deal, but it served to show that Madrid knew they needed the three points and that they had not come by them easily. The embraces carried a sense of relief and it is understandable, because Madrid had a tough day at the office. Thibaut Courtois was the primary reason for the visitors’ victory, which was sealed by a wonderful link-up between Karim Benzema and Vinicius at the end of an otherwise underwhelming performance. Madrid scored an instant after Courtois pulled off a fine double save at the other end.
Vallecas has always been a difficult place for Real Madrid; it is a difficult place for more or less all visiting teams. It is infamous because of its size, one of the smallest pitches in the league, a metre narrower and five metres shorter than the Bernabéu. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but the players notice the difference and it is exacerbated by how close the crowd are to the pitch, practically an extended leg away from being able to toe the touchline. Rayo have made their home a fortress. They are in a run of bad form at the moment, but they feel comfortable in their unique biotope, which in addition to its dimensions also has a threadbare pitch which probably shouldn’t be allowed in a top-flight division. And Rayo’s fans are loud, carried along by the Bukaneros fan group, who incidentally did not make themselves heard on Saturday regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Bukaneros are always looking for worthy causes, but a war is apparently not worthy of their attention.
Modric: Madrid's Duracell bunny
It was an end-to-end game that I always suspected Madrid would edge, because they have a world-class keeper at one end and because they have more bite in attack. Aside from the Benzema-Vincius goal though, on Saturday they were ineffective. In the first half Madrid’s most potent forward was Asensio, who fluffed a clear chance but also drew a fine save from Luca Zidane, before disappearing from view after the break. One Madrid player who is at the top of his game at the moment is Modric, who at 36 years of age not only continues to play beautifully, which is his wont, but also possesses more energy than the Duracell bunny. Thanks to him, thanks to Courtois and thanks to a brief flash of brilliance from Benzema and Vinicius, Madrid secured three very hard-won points.