Real Madrid took advantage of Barcelona’s loss to Valencia on Saturday by beating Real Valladolid on Sunday evening, Nacho Fernandez scoring the only game of the game at Estadio José Zorrilla.
Knowing a win would take them top of La Liga, Real struggled for large periods but got themselves ahead when Nacho’s header from Toni Kroos’ cross crept over Jordi Masip’s line in the 78th minute.
Los Blancos dominated possession throughout, though Valladolid did go close when Sergi Guardiola hooked in from six yards – only for the offside flag to be raised.
The result means Real are now three points ahead of Barça at the top of Spain’s top flight, having previously trailed the reigning champions on goals scored.
Starting XI: Masip (5); Antonito (5), Olivas (6), Salisu (7), Garcia (7); Emeterio (5), Fernandez (6), Alcaraz (7); Michel (6); Guardiola (5), Unal (6).
Substitutes: Villa (6), Plano (6), De la Fuente (6).
Key Talking Point
So, here was the chance, Real fans.
The chance to seize the initiative in the La Liga title race.
The chance to go ahead of Barcelona and first outright, having been stuck behind the current league champions on goals scored.
Real’s bitter rivals lost at Valencia on Saturday, offering Los Blancos a chance to surge ahead in the title race. Given that Barca have won four of the last five top flight Spanish titles on offer, competitors really have to take advantage whenever La Blaugrana slip up.
It probably wasn’t the best prep for Zinedine Zidane, then, that a few key players were absent. Dani Carvajal’s suspension meant utility man Nacho filled in at right back, while Gareth Bale’s absence ensured there was a starting place for Rodrygo alongside Karim Benzema and Isco in attack.
Any nerves that might have bothered Real’s players before Sunday evening’s game seemed to dissipate rather quickly as they stuck the ball in Valladolid’s net early on, only for Casemiro’s header to be disallowed.
However, while things must have got frustrating as Real continued to knock on the door with little to show for it, Zidane’s side ultimately kept their nerve to snatch all three points late on, thanks to one unlikely goalscorer.
Starting XI: Courtois (6); Nacho (9), Varane (6), Ramos (7), Mendy (8); Modric (6), Casemiro (7), Kroos (7); Rodrygo (6), Benzema (6), Isco (7).
Substitutes: Vazquez (6), Valverde (N/A), Jovic (N/A)
Real’s faithful handyman turned in a performance at right back that even the regular incumbent Carvajal would have been impressed with.
The Spaniard made four tackles – the joint most during the game – as well as a match high of four interceptions.
Real’s squad may look a little thin in attacking areas with injuries cropping all over the shop, but in Nacho they have a player who can fill in at the back wherever, whenever required.
It’s the small matter of the Madrid derby next for Real when Atletico visit the Bernabeu on 1 February.