Real Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano: 6 Things We Learned
Following wins for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid earlier in the day, Real Madrid knew they had no margin for error when they hosted Rayo Vallecano at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. They got the job done, winning 5-0 to keep the gap to leaders Atletico at three points.
Madrid did not have things all their own way, and it was only in the second half that their quality shone through, with four additional goals adding gloss to a scoreline that was a little harsh on their visitors.
Here are six things we learned from Real Madrid’s victory over Rayo Vallecano.
In Alliance, Bale and Ronaldo Are Deadly
Cristiano Ronaldo made his annoyance clear when Gareth Bale was handed responsibility for a late free-kick in Real Madrid’s midweek defeat to Sevilla, but the pair enjoyed a more harmonious relationship in the win over Rayo.
Madrid’s opening goal was a result of a nice one-two between them, with Ronaldo taking the return pass in stride, driving in the area and finishing low across goal. The team’s second saw Bale aim a low cross into the area for Ronaldo, who in turn teed up Daniel Carvajal to finish.
Bale added two goals for himself in the final half hour of the match, ending a run of five league matches without a goal, as per Marca. He tapped in at the far post from a low Angel Di Maria cross for the first and then drove forward from inside his own half before finishing low past Ruben for the second.
Carlo Ancelotti will hope Bale and Ronaldo can be as decisive in Madrid’s Champions League quarter-final, first-leg tie against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
Illarramendi Yet to Find His Place
Madrid paid over €32 million to prise Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad last summer, but the former Spanish U-21 international is yet to prove himself worthy of such a fee, with his off-field antics proving more interesting than his contribution on the pitch.
The win over Rayo was Illarramendi’s second consecutive start and again he failed to make an impact, appearing hesitant in possession and unsure of his responsibilities. As per WhoScored.com, he was dispossessed once and misplaced six passes before half-time. It was little surprise to see him removed from the action in favour of Isco just past the hour mark.
Illarramendi was signed as the long-term successor to Xabi Alonso and is neither energetic enough to replace Angel Di Maria (as he did against Sevilla in midweek), nor creative enough to stand in for Luka Modric (as he did against Rayo). It remains to be seen whether he can flourish once given opportunities in the role he was signed to fill.
Di Maria Is Vital to Real Madrid
Real Madrid missed the suspended Angel Di Maria during Wednesday’s defeat to Sevilla. His incisive on- and off-ball running helps link Madrid’s midfield to their attack, and they can often appear a broken team without him.
Di Maria returned to the starting lineup on Saturday and gave a clear demonstration of what he brings to the team, driving forward down the left and providing a number of penetrative passes in behind the Rayo defence. Excellent first-half chances for Bale and Karim Benzema arose from his through balls.
The Argentinian international finally got the assist his earlier play deserved in the 67th minute when he raced onto a pass from Ronaldo and crossed low for Bale to tap in at the far post.
Di Maria was substituted with 20 minutes left to play, no doubt with Wednesday’s match against Borussia Dortmund in mind. Ancelotti has plenty of quality players at his disposal, but none who can quite replicate the verticality Di Maria brings to the side.
Finishing Continues to Let Benzema Down
Benzema had one of his quieter nights, as direct passes in behind the high-lined Rayo defence proved an easier route to goal than elaboration through the centre of the pitch.
He was, however, provided with a superb opportunity to double Madrid’s early lead when Bale was released by Di Maria and crossed low into the area. Benzema was uncertain whether to control the ball or sweep it first time into the back of the net and ended up doing neither, as the ball bounced off his leg and away from danger.
It was not the first time in recent weeks that Benzema has failed to convert a good opportunity. Despite scoring twice, he missed other chances to score in the Clasico defeat to Barcelona and again in the midweek loss to Sevilla.
Benzema has provided a solid 23 goals in all competitions this season, but his lack of clinicality at key moments could yet cost Madrid honours.
Morata Can Be Real Madrid’s Wild Card
Ancelotti has often called on Jese Rodriguez to provide something different when things are not going to plan this season, but with the talented 21-year-old sidelined for six months, as per Marca, another cantera product, Alvaro Morata, could become Ancelotti’s new wild card.
Morata is yet to have quite the same impact as Jese, but he was a regular scorer in Madrid’s second team and has been prolific for Spain at various age groups, suggesting that he could have a role to play between now and the end of the season. He certainly made a good case for further outings in his cameo against Rayo.
Sporting a new close-cropped look, Morata replaced Benzema on 73 minutes and five minutes later produced a superb curling shot into the top corner for Madrid’s fifth and final goal of the night. It was a moment of real quality and one that he will hope to replicate if given further opportunities.
Rayo Will Be OK
“I want my team to play well, regardless of the result,” were Rayo coach Paco Jemez’s words, as per AS, in his pre-match press conference and his team certainly gave a very good account of themselves at the Bernabeu.
With Roberto Trashorras conducting play from the centre of the pitch and a phalanx of skilful attacking midfielders interchanging to good effect in the final third, Rayo were a joy to watch. They created few clear-cut chances, but there were numerous occasions when the Madrid defence were troubled by the ingenuity of their attacking play.
Rayo came into the match on the back of four wins and a draw in their preceding five matches. With their hardest remaining fixture now out of the way they can concentrate on accumulating the points necessary to remain clear of the bottom three. If Saturday’s performance is anything to go by, they will have little trouble doing so.