Bale, bothered by niggling injuries the past few weeks, succumbed to what some reports are characterizing as a calf injury after just a few minutes. The-ex Spurs man was replaced by Javier Hernandez who quietly partnered up top with Cristiano Ronaldo. Already missing Karim Benzema, Carlo Ancelotti deployed Toni Kroos and Luka Modric a bit deeper than usual, allowing Isco and James Rodriguez freedom to roam and create in behind Ronaldo and Hernandez.
The first half was a cagey affair, unfurling at half speed until Ronaldo burst down the left flank in the 23rd minute and won a free kick. CR7 then lofted superlative service into the goal mouth for Sergio Ramos to angle sharply into the top of the net giving Real a 1-0 lead. The goal made Ramos the third highest goal scoring defender in Real's illustrious history. The Spanish international now sits behind only Roberto Carlos and assistant coach Fernando Hierro. The strike gave Madrid space and Kroos and Modric were able to slow down the tempo of the match. The pitch began to tilt towards Malaga keeper Carlos Kameni who made a number of fine saves to keep Malaga in the hunt.
Still, Malaga were fearless, playing a ludicrously high-line and countering with pace when the opportunity arose. Nordin Amrabat and Juanmi, in particular, caused Real's backline problems, forcing the excellent Kroos to drop deeper and provide needed cover. Amrabat wasted a critical chance near the end of the first half that would have given Malaga an equalizer.
The ex-Galatasary man (who gave Ramos all he could handle) also flashed dangerously wide in the 55th minute. However, Real began to assert themselves with more authority as the second half wore on. James was able to drift into pockets of space and wreak havoc with his movement more and more frequently. Isco and Cristiano combined to find the Colombian roaming in the box where he was cut-down for penalty. CR7 stepped up and missed his first penalty in over two years. The Portuguese went left and the ball skidded outside the post. Strangely enough, Cristiano's last missed penalty in 2013 also occurred against Malaga.
Latest on the injuries
Latest on the injuries
James' movement reached a crescendo with one of the most intricate, gorgeously worked goals of the season. James dished to Alvaro Arbeloa and ran off the ball while Arbeloa slid a pass to Isco who fed James who fed Cristiano who quickly gave it right back to a breaking James, who rifled a blistering shot past Kameni for a 2-0 lead. Malaga answered quickly with some magic of their own when the impressive Rosales launched inch-perfect service into the box for Juanmi to head home in the 74th minute. There were some tense moments as the clock ticked on and Malaga inched closer to an equalizer. Ramos made a critical play on a ball headed straight Amrabat in the waning moments, keeping Real in front. Seconds later it seemed, Real broke and Hernandez slotted a perfect cross for Ronaldo to tap-in and send Malaga back to the coast 3-1 losers.
On top of losing Bale, Luka Modric went down clutching his knee after a clattering tackle by Recio. The Croatian reacted with immediate fear and despair, but was able to limp off the pitch without assistance. Madridistas worldwide will be anxiously monitoring his status in the days ahead. First news indicate that Modric could be out 5-6 weeks while Bale is seriously questionable for the Derby.