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Immediate Reaction: Rayo Vallecano 2-3 Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale leads Real to an ugly win at Vallecas

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

1. Rayo deserve credit.

Paco Jémez's men are fearless in attack and among the most energetic teams in Europe. Never mind the 10-2 of December, as that was a game that they were actually leading before going down to nine men. They're a challenging side, despite their goal difference. To get a win at Vallecas with a thin squad, on a short week, is huge.

2. Gareth Bale and Lucas Vázquez are brilliant on the wings.

Losing Cristiano was obviously a blow, but Lucas Vázquez's form makes the idea of Ronaldo perhaps sitting out the first leg against City less scary. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale was the best player on the pitch today. He honestly looks faster when running with the ball at his feet, and his game-winner was stunning.

3. Mateo Kovačić put in a much-needed strong performance for both his confidence's sake, and the team's sake.

With Luka Modrić getting a bit of rest before the CL tie, and Kovačić desperate to minutes, his strong showing today was just what Real Madrid needed. Kovačić's role calls for smart decision-making and composure, as well as technical ability, and he showcased both. One has to think that after today, Zidane will move him up in the rotation.

4. This was an ugly, yet encouraging win.

This game featured nasty weather, an early deficit, an electric crowd, and an opponent committed to attacking: all the ingredients for a hard draw or disappointing loss. Instead, Real keep pace in La Liga, and go into the Champions League tie against Manchester City having won five games on the trot.