This wasn’t an emphatic scoreline — just another narrow win over a team in the relegation zone. But, at the very least, in what was Real Madrid’s last home game of the calendar year, the team had some positive things going for them, including a few encouraging individual performances.
(Those encouraging things dissipated as the game wore on; which made this reaction difficult to write.)
Rayo went into this match without their main striker, Raul de Tomas (on loan from Real Madrid), who sat this match out due to an infamous loan clause. His absence defanged Rayo’s already tame attack — and without de Tomas, Rayo really had no focal point in attack, nor anyone to finish the sporadic chances they created.
And Michel’s men did create chances. Not many, but as is a recurring issue, Real’s left-flank collapsed a few times defensively, where Marcelo and others would hedge centrally and allow unchallenged runs on the wing. Rayo couldn’t really punish this kink the way CSKA did earlier last week.
Defensively, Rayo are even worse than they are in attack. Apart from some high pressing in the first couple minutes (which wasn’t a premonition), they couldn’t unnerve Solari’s men from stringing passes together, nor could they prevent runs in behind their midfield.
Benzema and Asensio made good off-ball runs. (Asensio did not have a great game offensively, but watch him play in a vacuum, and he’s at least trying to do the right things). Most noteworthy of the two, though, was without question Benzema, who had a ceaseless motor in attack until he left the game injured in the second half, and his run after releasing the ball out-wide for Vazquez on a cross-field switch completely broke Rayo’s defensive structure:
Benzema was one of the standouts of the first half, but Toni Kroos set a really nice tempo with his play in midfield. He hounded Rayo’s players high up the pitch (dispossessing them four times in the first 45 minutes), and as always, set the tone with his passing. He also received good support from Marcos Llorente — who continues to be ever-so-comfortable with the ball at his feet while contributing to the team’s build-up and transition offense — and Luka Modric who had some nice touches in the final third.
You could read the above paragraphs and think I’m being over-generous, and that’s fair. It wasn’t a particularly standout performance, and Real Madrid looked better in the first half than they did in the second — which isn’t saying a lot. Given how poor Rayo have looked this season defensively, and the space they allowed Real Madrid between the lines, it was disappointing Solari’s men didn’t create much offensively; and Rayo had two great chances in the 91st minute to equalize, which would’ve capped this horror-show of a season.
We’ll break this down in more details on the post-game podcast, going up tomorrow.