Real Madrid continued on their road to recovery by claiming a 2-0 victory over fellow capital side Rayo Vallecano at the Vallecas on Wednesday and although the performance on the night from Los Blancos was nowhere near to the level of their display against Granada over the weekend, the three points picked up has to be considered just as important.
Given the fact that Barcelona also claimed a victory in their clash, Madrid were unable to close down the gap at the top of the table. Nonetheless, the best Madrid now can do is to keep up the pressure on their rivals and hope that an opportunity presents itself in the form of a Barcelona slip up.
Five things we learned from the clash –
1. James and Ronaldo star
Overall, it was not the most convincing of performances from Real Madrid on the day and there was a distinct possibility that Los Blancos would have suffered a setback in their title hopes, especially during a lackluster first half.
The second half was not a drastic improvement but Madrid did look much better in the final third and created a couple of very good openings. And unsurprisingly, it was Ronaldo and James who facilitated Madrid’s victory march.
Cristiano Ronaldo was desperately unfortunate to receive a yellow card for apparent simulation after his legs had been clearly taken away inside the box by Vallecano’s Antonio Amaya early on in the second period.
Nonetheless, Ronaldo dusted himself back up despite his clear frustration at the official and managed to open the scoring in the 67th minute of the game with a well taken header after Dani Carvajal had done some fine work down the right wing.
James Rodriguez was the man who sealed the game for Madrid by scoring the second in the 73rd minute of the clash and it has to be stated that alongside Ronaldo, the Colombian international was the best player on the pitch in a Los Blancos side very lackluster in attack.
The ability to drag the team to victory when things are not going well is one of the main reasons why Madrid shelled out big bucks to land the two superstars and their contribution in midweek could well prove to be vital in the Spanish giants’ hopes of overhauling Barcelona.
2. Benzema and Modric endure an off day
While it was James and Ronaldo that were stars who were able to shine, the important duo of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric had outings to forget on the night.
Benzema was fantastic against Granada last time out but his performance during the weekend was extremely poor. Not for the want of trying, Benzema simply struggled to get going during the clash and it was bit of a surprise that the Frenchman was kept on the pitch till the 70th minute of the game.
As for Modric, he was not particularly poor on the day but the Croatian international was not able to assert himself during the clash as he has done so magnificently since his return from injury.
Modric has been fantastic for Madrid over the past month and one cannot be overly critical of his performance but it is for sure that the midfielder himself will be demanding better performances in the coming weeks.
3. Casillas finally solid
It is no secret that Iker Casillas is not the same player he once was and his performances during the last month, particularly against Schalke and Athletic, were nothing short of woeful.
Despite all the calls for the Madrid legend to be dropped by the media as well as the fans though, Ancelotti persisted with the 33-year old and his performance against Vallecano in midweek went a long way in justifying the faith.
Although it was not an outstanding performance, Casillas exuded confidence from the back and made a couple of very good saves in the first period.
With young Raphael Varane struggling during the day, the experience shown by Casillas was vital in helping Madrid earn the victory and the performance proved that the experienced custodian will not be departing his beloved club without a fight.
4. Vallecano should be handed full credit
Admittedly, it was a terrible performance from Real Madrid during the clash but by the same token, one would be doing injustice by not praising Vallecano for their brave display.
In a stark contrast to Madrid’s expensively assembled squad, the Vallecano side consisted of talent on paper worth only €500,000. On the basis of the performance during the night though, one would struggle to accept that the two sides had so much gulf in terms of the respective price tags of the teams.
As they have shown all season, Vallecano were brave and were intent on giving Madrid a difficult time during the clash. However, what was admirable was the fact that manager Paco Jémez did not adopt a defensive strategy and instead looked to get at Madrid whenever possible.
At the end, it was Madrid’s bit of extra quality which proved to be the difference but Vallecano can certainly hold their heads up high following the performance and in general their magnificent displays throughout the current campaign.
5. The loss of suspended trio could be tricky against Eibar
Madrid did come away from the clash with all three points but in turn, they lost the services of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos as the trio earned a suspension for the upcoming game against Eibar after earning bookings on Wednesday night.
Even without the trio, Madrid have a good enough squad to see off the challenge posed by Eibar at home in a comfortable fashion but one can be sure that things will not be straightforward as it seems.
Apart from their fantastic individual talents, the sudden absence of Ronaldo, James and Kroos could disrupt the momentum the Madrid side have been gathering during the past few weeks and it could in turn lead to a sluggish performance from Ancelotti’s men against Eibar – during the initial stages of the game.
Given the fact that the Bernabeu faithful is not particularly a patient bunch, things could get tricky for Madrid if they do not start well against Eibar this weekend and now the onus will be on the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema to step up to the plate and deliver in the absence of the superstar trio.