Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid: Complete Player Ratings for Madrid's Players
Is Real Madrid back in business? Not quite, but they're getting there.
The 2-0 away win at Rayo Vallecano on Monday night was a positive step in the right direction and up the La Liga table.
Here's the thing: Real Madrid are still yet to look wholly convincing in the league, with their only impressive outings coming in Cup and European competition.
The Real Madrid defence looked shaky for a spell at the beginning of the game at the Vallecas stadium, with young Brazilian Leo Baptistao and forward Andrija Delibasic causing problems around Iker Casillas' box.
Notably, Mourinho opted to drop Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil from the starting XI. Both players have really underperformed in recent games, with Higuain missing a number of good scoring opportunities in previous weeks.
In came Karim Benzema in the striking role, fresh off his goal against Manchester City at the Bernabeu in the Champions League. In place of Ozil came new recruit Luka Modric, who looked tidy in possession and did well for much of the game against Rayo.
There's a decent level of solidity about the Madrid back four, but it seems they always have a potentially costly mistake in them or the ability to fall asleep during important phases of the game.
I'd hardly fault Mourinho's defenders for a poor early showing against Rayo, the home team were determined to take the fight to Real Madrid and take advantage of their seemingly weakened condition.
It was Alvaro Arbeloa who really forced Mourinho to stare daggers into his right-back just after halftime.
Without any great pressure, and certainly without looking, Arbeloa played a pass back into the Madrid penalty area for Casillas, unaware of the presence of Leo close by.
Fortunately for the visiting team, Leo was caught by surprise at the schoolboy error from an experienced international and the chance was quickly gone.
Marcelo, however, was particularly impressive on the attack. The Brazilian full-back always looked to link up well with Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of him, but that's a part of his game that we've come to expect.
Michael Essien also did well in a fairly low-key game. The midfielder, on loan from Chelsea for the season, slotted in well alongside Xabi Alonso in the midfield.
I suggested last week that Essien should be brought into the squad, and he certainly added a good level of calmness to the centre of the pitch for Madrid.
Essien is not the most mobile player anymore, but his possession play is always going to be valuable to Mourinho's side.
There was a big, big improvement from Angel Di Maria in the game. The previous two matches for Madrid saw two woeful performances from the Argentine midfielder, but the manager kept faith and was rewarded with a good performance and an assist for the first goal.
Ronaldo was also looking to prove the club of his worth with something impressive on the day. Unfortunately, it really wasn't coming together for the Portuguese flier, and definitely not for lack of trying.
Ronaldo was unable to add to his solitary goal from only a few yards out. His tame shot against the post following his earlier penalty really seemed to sum up the game for the forward.
A good response from Mourinho's team. The preparations were disrupted by the "sabotage" from the previous day, but it was a much-needed win to get themselves up the table and, more importantly, to bridge the gap between Barcelona.
However, much better performances will need to be had from Real Madrid in the coming weeks.
Iker Casillas 7
Alvaro Arbeloa 5
Sergio Ramos 6
Xabi Alonso 8
Michael Essien 7
Luka Modric 6
Angel Di Maria 7
Cristiano Ronaldo 6
Karim Benzema 8
Sami Khedira 5
Mesut Ozil 6
Gonzalo Higuain 5
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