Real Madrid kept pace with their La Liga title rivals on Sunday as they dispatched Granada 2-1 at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes courtesy of a late Luka Modric wonder strike.
Karim Benzema gave Real the lead in an otherwise fairly even first half. Youssef El Arabi gave the hosts a deserved equaliser in the second half, but Modric capped off an excellent individual performance with an equally excellent winner.
With Los Blancos putting in arguably their worst performance under manager Zinedine Zidane, the hosts frequently gave as good of a performance as they pushed forward with pace, while Real rarely built up any sort of rhythm to their play.
A bright start for El Grana saw Adalberto Penaranda—on loan from Watford—involved early on, with the pacey 18-year-old correctly seeing a goal chalked off for offside, per football journalist Dermot Corrigan:
Peñaranda already looks like Granada's go-to player. Madrid would've signed him few years back, reports have said, but FIFA were watching.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 7, 2016
Peñaranda looks to be through, but Navas gets to ball first... ball fed back to kid who scores, but he's well offside now...— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 7, 2016
At the other end, Real came close to taking an early lead when Modric slid a lovely ball to Dani Carvajal down the right. The Spaniard whipped a cross from the byline in the direction of Cristiano Ronaldo, but Benzema took the ball away from his team-mate as he stretched to meet it on the volley.
Granada continued to attack with intent, but that unsurprisingly left them open at the back—something Ronaldo should have punished shortly after, but he fired wide from a slight angle when Modric set him away on the left. David Lomban had to be alert to clear another expert delivery from the midfielder soon after.
Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe hailed the Croatian's sublime distribution:
Luka Modric's weight of pass > everything, everyone— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) February 7, 2016
Benzema made amends for his earlier error on 30 minutes as Granada were once again caught open after a foray forward. Carvajal made full use of the space down the right, and he picked out the Frenchman to tap home at the near post, per Sky Sports La Liga:
Corrigan hailed the striker's impressive form, while as fellow journalist Richard Martin noted, Carvajal is proving far more incisive compared to alternate right-back Danilo:
Benzema has scored in six consecutive games - 16 goals in his last 11, 23 goals in 22 in all. Opened scoring 11 times this term too.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 7, 2016
And that my friends is what happens when you pick Dani Carvajal ahead of Danilo— Richard Martin (@rich9908) February 7, 2016
Granada had calls for a penalty dismissed several minutes later as they pushed into Los Blancos' area in search of an equaliser, but Sergio Ramos' well-timed tackle was exceptionally executed.
Content with their lead, Real exerted somewhat more control on proceedings for the remainder of the half but fashioned little in the way of chances with Granada's performance belying their 19th position in the table.
Agence France-Presse's Kieran Canning wasn't impressed with either side, though:
Half-time. Probably worst Madrid performance of Zidane reign so far, but Granada punchless in attack & Benzema on fire— Kieran Canning (@KieranCanning) February 7, 2016
The hosts were almost gifted an equaliser early in the second period when Marcelo's poor touch allowed Isaac Success to run at goal, but the forward elected to shoot through a crowd instead of laying off to the open David Barral.
Barral then came close from the resulting corner, but Keylor Navas proved equal to his header. Modric and Ruben Rochina traded well-struck long-distance efforts. But the former's was fairly comfortably tipped over, while the latter's narrowly flew over the bar.
Not for the first time this season, Ronaldo had put in an anonymous performance, per Corrigan and Canning:
Ronaldo having another very difficult game away from Bernabeu. Struggling to get involved at all.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 7, 2016
Ronaldo has been atrocious— Kieran Canning (@KieranCanning) February 7, 2016
Benzema proved a much more effective focal point and nearly had his second after Modric found him just 10 yards out, but Granada goalkeeper Andres Fernandez got down well to make an excellent save.
Los Blancos' failure to extend their lead was quickly punished, though Granada did enjoy some good fortune in the buildup as the referee obstructed Modric to allow Rochina to break with the ball and slide it to El Arabi, who fired in past Navas, per Sky Sports La Liga:
Granada had the ball in the net for a third time shortly after when El Arabi finished off Lomban's header, but once again, it was rightly disallowed for offside.
The visitors looked devoid of ideas as the game headed toward a draw, but Modric unleashed a vicious effort into the top corner from 25 yards, per Sky Sports Statto:
Luka Modric scores his 1st La Liga goal in 33 appearances, since September 2014 pic.twitter.com/HTifnpnzu5— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 7, 2016
Per Tighe and Canning, Modric certainly deserved to score if his team perhaps did not:
Luka Modric the best player on the pitch even before the strike. A 9/10 performance from the masterful Croatian. #RMCF— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) February 7, 2016
Goal Madrid and what a goal from their best player by a mile tonight Modric— Kieran Canning (@KieranCanning) February 7, 2016
With the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Malaga and Atletico Madrid to come in February, three points were vital for Madrid, though the performance—both as a team and from individuals such as Ronaldo and James Rodriguez—will be a concern with plenty of tough fixtures approaching.
As for Granada, they showed flashes of quality going forward and were unfortunate not to come away with at least a draw.
El Grana face Real Sociedad, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna in the coming weeks—all of whom are struggling somewhat—though, so they'll have plenty more chances to pick up important points this month.
Per Corrigan for ESPN FC, Zidane urged his midfield maestro to take more shots on goal.
He said: "[Modric] scored a golazo, so I celebrated that, and the three points. I am happy for him, as he has to shoot more. He should shoot more. He can get forward more, he can also play as a No. 10. He showed today he has a phenomenal shot."
He added: "I am leaving happy with effort the players put in. Football is like that, we will not win games easily. That does not exist in football. We fought until the end, and are happy with that. I am proud of what the team did."