Rodrygo saves Real at the death

Recently dethroned La Liga champions Real Madrid entered Wednesday evening’s capital-based derby with Rayo Vallecano in the wake of unorthodox back-to-back defeats across all competitions. Those dropped points have left los Blancos one point behind local adversaries Atlético Madrid, with only three matches left to play this season.

Meanwhile, Rayo make the short trip across town to the Santiago Bernabéu still in contention for the club’s second-ever appearance in a UEFA competition, trailing Athletic Bilbao – who occupy the final UEFA European qualification position – by four points. 

RMA: Courtois, Carvajal, Alaba, Rüdiger, Nacho; Kroos, Camavinga, Modrić; Benzema, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo

RAY – Dimitrievski, Lejeune, Balliu, Catena, Fran García; Valentín, Comesaña; Palazón, Álvaro García, López; Camello 

Seeking to avenge their 3-2 defeat from the reserve fixture in November, Real began on the back foot despite the backdrop of noise from los Blancos’ fanbase, as Thibaut Courtois was kept on his toes by a plethora of activity from their visitors in and outside of the penalty area. However, against the early run of play in the game, Ancelotti’s side were ahead shortly after the half-hour mark, as top-scorer Karim Benzema instinctively broke the offside trap – sublimely taking the ball away from the onrushing figure of Stole Dimitrievski before subsequently slotting the ball into an empty net.

Rayo Vallecano came close to an equaliser before referee Jesús Gil Manzano’s whistle sounded for half time – as Isi Palazón’s ambitious long-range effort was tipped round the post for a corner by Courtois. 

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On course to leapfrog Atlético and reclaim second position in the LaLiga standings ahead of their match at the RCDE Stadium against Espanyol later this evening, Dani Carvajal spurned a glorious opportunity to double his side’s advantage in the 56th minute, as the marauding-forward full-back could only frustratingly direct Luka Modrić’s pin-point delivery into the box wide at the back post. 

Despite a flurry of activity from both dugouts, in which no less than three substitutions were made by Andoni Iraola to try and change the outcome of the game, Carvajal’s chance turned out to be the only significant action in front of the goal until a former player of los Blancos brought an eerie silence across a previously deafening Santiago Bernabéu.

After never making a senior appearance for Real, Raúl de Tomás came back to haunt his previous employers in the 84th minute, as another of Iraola’s alterations, Pep Chavarría, put it on a plate for the Spanish forward to fire past a bound-to-be disappointed Courtois at his near post. Unbelievably, after a quiet second half, Real delivered a heartbreaking blow to Rayo’s hopes of holding on for a share of the spoils, as late-goal specialist Rodrygo fired past Dimitrievski from the fringes of the area in the 89th minute to hand the hosts all three points.

Victory registers Real Madrid’s fourth successive league victory at the Santiago Bernabéu, as los Blancos now have a few days to prepare for the journey to face UEFA Europa League finalists Sevilla on Sunday. On the other hand, Rayo now need other results to go their way across the remainder of gameweek 36 – as a victory for Athletic Bilbao at Osasuna on Thursday evening would leave los Franjirrojos mathematically unable to qualify for European engagements next season. 

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