Rayo had the better of the play during the first 45 minutes, pressing Madrid relentlessly and creating turnovers that led to a eye-opening 60% possession rate through the opening stages of the contest. The aggressiveness of Paco Jemez's men had Real on the back foot numerous times, forcing Iker Casillas to make a handful of important saves. Rayo were able to continue the disturbing recent trend of controlling the middle of the pitch, playing fluidly and forcefully through the center.
The pressing made Real one dimensional, as Carlo Ancelotti seemed content to have his side patiently exploit opportunities on the counter. Unfortunately, due to the lack of an adequate link through the midfield, many of these attacks took the form of long-balls that Rayo were able to neutralize with a supremely disciplined (and daring( offside trap.
Appropriate credit must be given to Ancelotti because everything changed dramatically in the second half. Whether it was purely tactical and/or a major dressing room dressing down, all of a sudden Marcelo and Carvajal began getting forward more frequently, breaking the press and manufacturing critical space for Real's playmakers to maneuver in. This space paid immediate dividends for Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Dark clouds began to swirl above Rayo early in the 2nd when Cristiano barreled into the box and was seemingly pulled down for what likely was a penalty. Not only was a penalty not given, in what would become an incredibly damaging form of double-jeopardy for Madrid--Ronaldo was booked for diving, ensuring that he would miss the Eibar match on Saturday. Toni Kroos and James also managed to pick-up bookings that will see them relegated to the stands with Cristiano over the weekend.
Real's breakthrough was started masterfully by Kroos who launched a lengthy, magnificent cross-field pass to switch play that was controlled handsomely by Gareth Bale. Bale then slid a little ball to Carvajal who blew past Nacho Martinez and chipped a delightful cross in for CR7 to head home. The goal was Ronaldo's 37th La Liga strike and 8th headed goal of the campaign, a number good enough to lead the top-5 European leagues. The numbers Cristiano generates continue to be astonishing. The ferocious, divebombing header would be all Los Blancos needed.
Carvajal and Ronaldo both figured into James' goal just six minutes later. The brilliant Carvajal, running like a man possessed threaded a beautiful pass to Cristiano who spotted James and the Colombian found the net with grace to make it 2-0. It's hard to remember a performance that differed so drastically between halves. Credit must be given to Rayo for a spirited opening 45 minutes, but Real's class shone like a diamond after the half when they played beautiful, thrilling football. The title race remains very much alive.