Real Madrid did it again. In a game that seemed destined for a draw, star forward Karim Benzema came up with the game-breaking play in the opposition penalty box with seven minutes remaining to give the La Liga leaders a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table to nine points with second-place Sevilla involved in a derby match against Real Betis on Sunday. Real Madrid has 12 matches left in the season with meetings against the top teams still on the calendar: Barcelona (March 20), Sevilla (April 17), Atletico Madrid (May 8) and Real Betis (May 22).
Benzema scored his league-leading 19th goal of the campaign to decide the match at the Estadio de Vallecas. He initiated a give-and-go move in the Rayo penalty area with teammate Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian forward burst forward and merely passed it to a wide-open Benzema who tapped it home. The Rayo defenders seemed stunned by the lightning quick move and never reacted.
The decisive goal came just moments after Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois came up big with a key double save against Rayo. He made five stops on the day and one of those efforts came on a reflex tip save over the bar on a 55th minute corner kick header by Mario Suarez.
The match could have turned on a controversial tackle by Casemiro on Rayo midfielder Oscar Valentin, which looked like it was worthy of a red card, but the referee and VAR did not act on it and a yellow card was all that was shown. The worst of it for Rayo is that Valentin had to come off injured moments later.
Rayo Vallecano hasn’t won a game in the 2022 calendar year thus far, losing five league matches in a row. They are still 10 points above the relegation zone, and with the fight shown against Real Madrid should have what it takes to stay in the top-flight as long as they can find a few more goals.
RMA – Karim Benzema (Vinicius Jr.) – 83rd min.
(All times Eastern)
90th min.: Militao just misses scoring on a corner kick header. Meanwhile, six minutes of injury time awarded by the officials.
88th min.: SUBS – Real Madrid go the opposite way and bring on Dani Ceballos and Eduard Camavinga to help shore things up. Benzema and Rodrygo will be the only forwards after Luka Modric and Vini Jr. are off.
85th min.: SUBS – Rayo bring in Nteka and Sylla to try to salvage something. Trejo and Alvaro Garcia are off.
83rd min.: Goal Benzema! Give-and-go in the box between Benzema and Vinicius Jr. and the Frenchman just walks through the Rayo backline to put it home.
Benzema and Vini link up for the clutch goal 🤩 pic.twitter.com/glUGyVM8vm
81st min.: Double save by Courtois! The Madrid ‘keeper is the man of the match for this side with another key intervention. Rayo had two bites, but he he was sprawling and came up big.
80th min.: SUB – Rodrygo in for Marco Asensio. Carlo Ancelotti wants to go for it.
78th min.: Another yellow card to Rayo center back Catena. It was for a previous play when he tugged at Benzema.
60th min.: Casemiro should’ve been sent off for this tackle on Oscar Valentin. Carlo Ancelotti realizes it and he subs Casemiro off so he doesn’t run any more risks.
De esta entrada no dices nada no? También miras para otro lado? https://t.co/J6HoO27Pf6 pic.twitter.com/Ewi1tqgB2d
En serio esto no es Expulsión ? pic.twitter.com/W8dTmSrQmy
55th min.: Great spell for Rayo, buzzing around the Real Madrid box and Courtois has to make the tip save on a corner kick header by Rayo’s Mario Suarez. Rayo have life. They’re not going to be an easy out for Real Madrid.
51st min.: Vinicius with a chance, but Rayo defender Alejandro Catena gets in the way with a sliding block. That chance came off a recirculated ball following a corner kick.
46th min.: Second half is underway. Real Madrid on the front foot, winning a free kick near the left corner flag. Another corner comes of it, but Rayo escape. Real Madrid have been dangerous on set pieces on all match.
Halftime: No panic from Real Madrid. They knew this match against a feisty Rayo side would be tight, but Real Madrid still look like the most likely to score when they get in and around the box. Rayo have had a couple of moments that they’ve not been able to exploit, but they’ll feel just as good about that first half. They’ll need to get tighter on Benzema in the box and Marco Asensio outside the box. Those two have been the most dangerous players so far for the visitors.
46th min.: Somehow Benzema is wide open in the six-yard box on a Real Madrid set piece and his header is stuffed by Luca Zidane. He looked on the edge of the offside trap in that instance, as well.
41st min.: No goal. It’s not clear if it was called back for offside or for the hand ball, but the Casemiro goal is wiped away either way. One outlet seems to think it’s the offside infraction (Casemiro is the No. 14).
❌No valió el gol de Casemiro
📻Sigue el partido en @Marcador https://t.co/ilgsizI4uT pic.twitter.com/C7AxVysOMi
39th min.: Goal Real Madrid! Casemiro scores, but there might be a hand ball committed by Casemiro. He’s always dangerous when he’s in the box. The referee is waiting for the VAR check.
¡Gol anulado! Todo sigue igualado entre el Rayo y el Real.
¿Decisión correcta? pic.twitter.com/5sGLlgQrxv
38th min.: Benzema again reappears. He gets the ball just inside the box and takes a shot that earns a corner.
31st min.: Benzema shot cleared off the line, but he was just offside. Both teams getting decent looks. Real Madrid are sloppy, but dangerous.
26th min.: Guardiola dangerous again for Rayo with a header. It doesn’t seem that Real Madrid has a good handle on the forward.
24th min.: Marco Asensio gets another look on the right side for Real. It’s his third shot, but this one was really close and Luca Zidane has to come up with a big stop. Asensio was aiming for the far left post on a beautiful curler.
What a save from Luca Zidane! 📛
Watch the second half of #RayoRealMadrid LIVE on #LaLigaTV. 📺 pic.twitter.com/JETMjVsIz7
17th min.: Big chance for Rayo! Sergi Guardiola has a free header on goal on a cross from the right, but it’s central and it’s an easy stop for Thibaut Courtois. Another Rayo player was right there in case of any spills.
10th min.: Rayo chance! Bebe with a dangerous shot that just goes wide right of Courtois’s net. Moments later Vinicius Jr. fires high. Good tempo to this game.
8th min.: No chances to speak of early on.
1st min.: We’re off. Real Madrid in blue.
12:00 p.m.: There hasn’t been a draw between these two teams in 21 matches (19 wins by Madrid in that span):
39 partidos oficiales entre Rayo y Madrid:
6 victorias del Rayo (39 goles)
30 victorias del Madrid (108 goles)
Ningún empate en los 21 últimos partidos entre ambos equipos: 19 victorias del Madrid y 2 victorias del Rayo.
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid will be broadcast live to US viewers on ESPN+ and on TSN 1 in Canada. The fixture will also be streamed live on fuboTV, with consumers able to take advantage of a free trial.
Rayo Vallecano will be without left-winger Martin Merquelanz, with the Spaniard still absent due to injury. Central midfielder Unai Lopez was a doubt for the clash with a hip problem, and Jose Pozo will not feature after recently recovering from COVID-19.
Sergi Guardiola leads the line for the hosts against their city rivals, leaving the experience of Radamel Falcao waiting in the wings on the substitutes’ bench.
Rayo Vallecano lineup (4-2-3-1): 1-Luca Zidane (GK) — 20-Ivan Balliu, 4-Mario Suarez, 5-Alejandro Catena, 33-Fran Garcia — 6-Santi Comesana, 23-Oscar Valentin — 10-Bebe, 8-Oscar Trejo (capt.), 18-Alvaro Garcia — 16-Sergi Guardiola
Rayo Vallecano subs (9): 13-Stole Dimitrievski, 24-Esteban Saveljich, 2-Nikola Maras, 19-Kevin Rodrigues, 7-Isi Palazon, 8-Randy Nteka, 21-Ismaila Ciss, 3-Radamel Falcao, 11-Mamadou Sylla
Real Madrid on the other hand will have to do without Austria star David Alaba for the away trip, as the former Bayern Munich man is suffering from a muscular problem. Gareth Bale will also not take part in the match, suffering from a similar issue. Mariano Diaz is also not in the squad as he gets over the worst of a pelvic injury.
Federico Valverde is back in contention after being struck down by a stomach virus. Karim Benzema will be keen to continue on the goal trail after his last-minute penalty against Alaves last week.
Real Madrid projected lineup (4-3-3): 1-Courtois (GK) — 2-Carvajal, 3-Militao, 6-Nacho, 23-F. Mendy — 10-Modric, 8-Kroos, 14-Casemiro — 11-Asensio, 9-Benzema, 20-Vinicius Jr.
Real Madrid subs (12): 40-Fuidias (GK), 12-Marcelo, 15-Valverde, 19-Ceballos, 5-Vallejo, 25-Camavinga, 17-Lucas Vazquez, 7-Hazard, 21-Rodrygo, 22-Isco, 24-Mariano, 16-Jovic
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
There could be plenty of thrills and spills in this match.
Real Madrid possess plenty of attacking flair, with the likes of Karim Benzema to call on in the final third. Undoubtedly, the Frenchman is one of the best attackers in world soccer, scoring 25 times in 30 games this season in all competitions. He will no doubt be in the hunt to extend his tally come kick-off time today.
Marco Asensio could be granted another start after his stunning strike at the Santiago Bernabeu last Saturday, cutting inside before firing a curling shot past the ‘keeper. The Spaniard will look to continue to give Real Madrid a creative spark in their latest fixture.
Rayo Vallecano forward Sergi Guardiola will be charged with the duty of occupying the opposition backline today, alleviating pressure when needed in order to slow down Real Madrid’s momentum. Registering seven-goal contributions as of today, he could be an outside bet to do some damage in front of goal on the big stage today.