Real Madrid Narrowly Avoids Implosion at Vallecas (2-3)

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

The short trip across town to Vallecas was just as nervy as it always seems to be.

Vallecas hasn't always been the kindest of places for the cross-town Blancos. Typically, you don't want to afford derby rivals the opportunity to hang around and keep things close because at that point, anything can happen. More on that later.

A Solid Start

Thankfully for Real Madrid, Master and Commander Cristiano is still riding the wave of disrespect shown him by FIFA figurehead, Sepp Blatter. Either that or he's just being Cristiano. Regardless, a lovely deep-lying combination with Luka Modric sprung the Portuguese past Vallecano's Gálvez with a lovely nutmeg and tucked finish just inside the opposite upright past the helpless goalkeeper, Rubén. Not even three minutes had elapsed before Ronaldo flexed his muscle. It was another example of the ridiculous skill made to look so simple by Ronaldo that we're accustomed to. Patented.

Rayo enjoyed a healthy share of the football all game long, but the lifelessness and lack of confidence typical of a 19th place side was evident. So was the bad luck. Lass Bangoura made life difficult for the hobbling Fábio Coentrão and delivered a deadly cross in the 28th minute that met Falqué's oncoming finish. In Jonathan Viera's rush to get involved, he deflected Falqué's goalbound strike from an offsides position.

Three minutes later, the match was all but over (at least it appeared that way at the time) when Gareth Bale provided a juicy cross with his weaker right foot that Karim Benzema easily headed home. Madrid's second goal was again a creation of lightning quick transition, this time the returning redbeard, Xabi Alonso, being the catalyst with one of his numerous crossfield diagonal balls to find the Welshman.

A(nother) Solid Start Ruined

If you were late settling back in for the second half, you probably missed Real Madrid's third goal. Gareth Bale easily breezed past Arbilla near the corner flag and found a streaking Ronaldo on Rubén's doorstep to make it 0-3 to the visitors. Moments like that may go a long way in proving that the two can indeed coexist. Surely it was game over.

Surely not. Putrid defending kept things shaky right up until the end. Pepe and Marcelo had a pair of clumsy, Sunday league challenges in Madrid's 18-yard box within mere minutes of each other. Jonathan Viera beat Diego López from the penalty spot both times to turn the match on its head and ratchet up the blood pressure for another half hour.

It was a hold-on-for-dear-life affair from that point on. Some ugly football ensued in front of Diego López's frame. He dealt with the leaking defensive formation to varying success with a stunning save pushed onto the goalpost one minute, and a weak flap at a cross that should have been capitalized on, the next.

In the end, it was just enough to stay within six points of FC Barcelona 12 matches into the season.

Tidbits

Xabi Alonso started the match and lasted until halftime before he was replaced with Illarramendi. Though Alonso looked slightly limited in his movement still, he provided the usual crossfield dimes, quick transition outlet balls and defensive balance in his half of action.

Fábio Coentrão also lasted only a half, but it was almost miraculous that he did so. The Portuguese fullback landed awkwardly on his left ankle twenty minutes into the match in a way that frightens even the toughest of NBA players. Marcelo replaced him before the halftime whistle.

Pepe still makes this writer cringe all too often when he's called upon. Varane deserved some rest for his recovering knee, but things got ugly on the back line tonight. That's not to say Pepe was the only poor performer in defence, but he sticks out for me. It's tough for a centerback who has relied strictly on his physical gifts to adjust to those gifts diminishing with age.

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