Dec 15, 2018 at 5.30pm UK
Real Madrid
Rayo Vallecano
Benzema (13')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Live Commentary: Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano - as it happened

:Headline: Live Commentary: Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano - as it happened: ID:344279: from db_amp
Relive Real Madrid's narrow 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano as Karim Benzema's goal fires Los Blancos back up to third in La Liga.

Real Madrid climbed up to third in the La Liga table courtesy of a 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano this evening.

The hosts took the lead through Karim Benzema after just 13 minutes, but they failed to build on that and produced a laboured display against a team they scored 10 past the last time the fixture was played at the Bernabeu.

Indeed, Madrid needed a double save from Thibaut Courtois in stoppage time to secure the points as they closed the gap on leaders Barcelona to two points.

Find out how all of the action unfolded courtesy of Sports Mole's minute-by-minute updates below.

Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for today's La Liga clash between Real Madrid and local rivals Rayo Vallecano at the Bernabeu!

The hosts come into this match off the back of a shocking result in midweek, but today they are hosting a team struggling to make their mark on the top flight following their promotion last season.

We will have a closer look at both sides a little later, but first let's check out the team news...

REAL MADRID STARTING XI: Courtois; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Llorente, Modric; Vazquez, Benzema, Asensio
REAL MADRID SUBS: Navas, Vallejo, Valverde, Odriozola, Isco, Ceballos, Vinicius
RAYO VALLECANO STARTING XI: Dimitrievski; Tito, Galvez, Velazquez, Moreno; Advincula, Imbula, Santi, Medran; Alvaro, Embarba
RAYO VALLECANO SUBS: Garcia, Akieme, Ba, Pozo, Bebe, Alegria, S Moreno
What can we make of those two sides, then?

Well, the first thing to note is that Gareth Bale misses out for Madrid after picking up an ankle injury against CSKA in midweek, forcing him out of the squad entirely for this one after he failed a late fitness test.

The Welshman has not been in the best form for Madrid so far this season, but his absence is still a major blow considering he has scored six goals in his last two games against Rayo.

Solari made a host of changes to his side for that Champions League defeat to CSKA, and unsurprisingly most of those usual first-teaners do come back into the side today.

Those include Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in defence, while Toni Kroos is also back in the starting XI having made his return from a knee injury as a sub against the Moscow outfit.

There is still no Casemiro for the European champions, though, as he misses out once again due to injury, with Llorente and Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric making up the midfield.

One notable absentee from the starting lineup is Isco, who was booed by his own supporters against CSKA on Wednesday night. There has been speculation that he is pushing for a move away in January, and his relationship with the fans appears to have completely broken down now.

In all, Solari makes six changes to the team which started against CSKA Moscow, with Lucas Vazquez also coming into the starting lineup alongside Kroos, Modric and the three defenders.

Marcelo and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are the only players to keep their places in the defensive areas, while Llorente, Asensio and Benzema continue in the side in the forward and midfield areas.

Benzema is Real Madrid's leading scorer in La Liga so far this season, although his tally of five goals is not particularly impressive for someone leading the line at a club like Madrid.

There is no doubt that they have missed Ronaldo's goals so far - as is only natural - but they need others to step up too. Sergio Ramos is second in Madrid's leading scorer list on four, alongside Bale.

As for Rayo, they are missing their own top scorer today as Raul de Tomas misses out due to being ineligible to play against his parent club.

The loanee from Madrid has netted for league goals for the struggling visitors this season and his absence will be a big miss for Rayo in their attempts to spring a surprise today.

De Tomas is not the only key player missing for Rayo today, though, with Jordi Amat suspended and both Gorka Elustondo and Gael Kakuta sidelined for the visitors.

Amat and Kakuta have both enjoyed spells in English football, of course, and there is another former Premier League player in Rayo's ranks with Giannelli Imbula - on loan from Stoke - being handed a start in midfield today.

Michel has made three changes to the side which faced Betis last weekend, including rare starts for Tito and Velazquez in defence.

The other switch sees Madran come into the side as Amat, Trejo and Pozo - the latter of whom is his side's second-highest scorer with two goals - drop out of the starting XI.

Madrid will come into this match as heavy favourites to pick up all three points, of course, but the prospect of a major upset feels significantly more likely at the moment than it has done in recent years for Los Blancos.

The European champions have endured a dreadful start to the season, and yet still go into this weekend sitting fourth in the table and with the prospect of moving to within two points of the leaders.

It is quite a remarkable situation given that Madrid have lost a third of their 15 league games so far this season, with only seven teams in the entire division having been beaten more times than the capital giants.

Eight victories from those 15 games have ensured that they are not out of the title race just yet, though, and another win today would close the gap to only two points before Barcelona face Levante tomorrow.

Even so, Madrid do not only judge themselves against other teams - they also do so against their own high standards and by that measure they have been dreadful at times this term.

In fairness to Santiago Solari, he has managed to steady the ship with eight wins from his 10 matches at the helm across all competitions, but they are still prone to a shock and the two matches he has failed to win have resulted in chastening defeats.

The most recent of those came on Wednesday night as Real Madrid - the kings of Europe for each of the past three years - slumped to a 3-0 defeat at home to CSKA Moscow in a Champions League performance that even had their own fans booing the team.

Madrid, to their credit, had already won the group and sealed their place in the last 16, but it was still an embarrassing result for the club and not the first time that they have been soundly beaten this season.

Indeed, Madrid have now lost by three or more goals on four separate occasions this season, which is a remarkable statistic for a club of their calibre. It is the same number of three-goal-or-more losses as Madrid had suffered in their previous 203 matches (203!) across all competitions, yet they have suffered them all in their last 17 outings.

Madrid have now lost seven of their last 18 games too, including those 3-0 defeats to Eibar and CSKA under Solari.

However, Madrid have won four of their last five La Liga outings following no wins and four defeats in the five prior to that, so there has definitely been an improvement lately.

Madrid scraped past basement club Huesca last weekend thanks to Bale's early strike, but their midweek defeat means that they are in danger of losing successive home games for the first time since April 2011.

Madrid's general home record is good this season, though, with Los Blancos having lost just once at the Bernabeu in the league so far in 2018-19.

Only Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have picked up more points in front of their own fans, while Madrid have also conceded only three goals at the Bernabeu, which is the lowest tally of any home ground in the division.

Even so, Rayo will have rarely come up against a Madrid side in such bad shape and so they will believe that they have the outside possibility of producing a shock today.

The problem is their own form, though, with Michel's side having struggled since their promotion back to the top flight so far. As things stand, an immediate return to the Segunda Division is looking likely.

Rayo are not dead and buried just yet, though, with a four-point gap separating them from safety after 15 games of the season.

Today's visitors have only won two of those 15 games, but there have been signs that they are capable of picking up points on a more regular basis as the season progresses and a couple of wins here or there could lift them into a position of safety.

If they are to do that then Rayo must first and foremost sort out their defensive record, having conceded a joint league-high 30 goals so far this season.

Only three teams have scored fewer than them too, with Rayo averaging one goal per game so far, and they have a remarkably bad record here at the Bernabeu too, so this is not a trip they will have been looking forward to.

Rayo have won just one of their last 14 outings across all competitions stretching back to mid-September, although they may take some encouragement from the fact that that win came against Eibar, who have already beaten Real Madrid fairly comfortably this season.

That victory came at the end of last month, but since then Rayo have lost both of their games without scoring - against Leganes in the Copa del Rey and then against Real Betis last Saturday.

Perversely for a team in such a poor league position, Rayo do not tend to go on long losing streaks and they have not been beaten three times in succession at any stage of this season so far.

They have not even lost back-to-back league games since the beginning of November, so while plenty of points are being dropped with draws, Rayo are not quite as easy to beat as their lowly league position might suggest.

When Rayo are beaten, they rarely get comfortably beaten either, and in fact they have lost the same number of games by three or more goals as Real Madrid have this season.

Barcelona struggled against today's visitors too, to the extent that they needed goals in the 87th and 90th minutes to turn what would have been a costly 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory, so Madrid will not be expecting a walkover today.

It is worth noting that Rayo were playing at home in that Barcelona defeat, though, and it is on the road where their main troubles have come this season, failing to win any of their last six across all competitions.

Indeed, no team has picked up fewer away points in La Liga this term, with their solitary triumph coming at fellow strugglers Huesca, while they have also scored the joint-fewest away goals too.

That Huesca defeat is actually Rayo's only La Liga away win in their last 24 attempts stretching back to their last spell in the top flight, while the last four have all ended in defeat.

PREDICTION: Right, we're 10 minutes away from kickoff at the Bernabeu, which means that it is time for a prediction!

Real Madrid have been prone to the odd unexpected result this season, but surely they must pick up all three points from this one. Rayo are not an easy team to beat, but they have been poor on the road and everything points towards a home win here.

SPORTS MOLE SAYS: Real Madrid 3-0 Rayo

Incredibly, Rayo's most recent visit to this ground ended in a 10-2 defeat three years ago, with Bale scoring four, Benzema three and Ronaldo a paltry two as Los Blancos ran riot despite trailing 2-1 at one stage.

Indeed, the last time Rayo were in La Liga they lost both matches against Madrid by a remarkable aggregate scoreline of 13-4, despite leading in both games.

The most recent contest came in April 2016, when Rayo actually raced into a 2-0 lead against Madrid inside the opening 14 minutes. However, Madrid stormed back to win 3-2 - including a brace from Bale - to continue their winning form against their local rivals.

Real have now won each of the last 16 meetings between the two sides stretching back to a goalless draw in March 2000, while it is 21 years since Rayo last beat Los Blancos.

It is their form specifically here at the Bernabeu which is the most amazing though, with Real Madrid having scored 20 goals in their last three home games against today's opponents - an average of just under SEVEN per game!

That average only drops a little when you extend the record further, with Madrid scoring 28 times in their last five home editions of this fixture. Will we see another goal-fest today?

Right, the players are out and we're almost ready to get started here! Let's have a reminder of the team news first...

REAL MADRID STARTING XI: Courtois; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Llorente, Modric; Vazquez, Benzema, Asensio

RAYO VALLECANO STARTING XI: Dimitrievski; Tito, Galvez, Velazquez, Moreno; Advincula, Imbula, Santi, Medran; Alvaro, Embarba

KICKOFF:  Here we go, then! Real Madrid get us underway at the Bernabeu!
Madrid have seen plenty of the ball in these opening exchanges, as expected. They have made one break down the right so far, but the subsequent cross into the box is dealt with.
It looks like a 4-5-1 from Rayo Vallecano, with Imbula the midfielder who is looking to get up in support of Embarba whenever they do try to break.
Madrid have played some slick football in the opening exchanges, but as soon as they get into the final third that killer pass is just lacking at the moment. They are looking more confident than their previous result suggests they might have been, though.
Madrid have got some joy down both wings so far, but Rayo are defending their box well so far. Every pass or cross into the middle, the defence have been first there so far.
Luka Modric was presented with his Ballon d'Or before kickoff today...

GOAL!  Madrid have the breakthrough, and it is another goal for Karim Benzema against Rayo!

The striker begins the move himself with a sweeping pass out wide for Vazquez. He continues his run into the box and latches on to Vazquez's pass before whipping his finish into the bottom far corner.

SAVE!  Almost an immediate response from the visitors as Embarba breaks forward down the right before playing a low ball into the box. Llorente cuts it out with a sliding interception which turns the ball back towards his own goal and requires Courtois to collect it.
CHANCE!  Huge chance for Rayo to get a goal back! Vazquez attacks a corner really well and beats Ramos in the air, but he glances his header narrowly wide when he really should have scored!
CHANCE!  This is end-to-end stuff! Madrid should double their lead here as Kroos plays a ball through for Asensio, who finds himself with only the keeper to beat. However, he is denied by the feet of the keeper and a glorious chance goes begging.
This is developing into another wide-open contest between these two sides. Madrid slice through Rayo with ease again, but this time Vazquez's poor touch allows the defence to get back.
CHANCE!  The hosts come pouring forward again with Marcelo exchanges passes with Kroos on the left. The German swings his cross into the box and Vazquez meets it with a first-time volley which is cleared away just in front of the line by Velazquez.
CHANCE!  Velazquez again threatens in the air from a set piece, but this time he cannot get enough on it to really trouble Courtois in the Madrid goal.
Rayo are all over the place defensively at the moment, and it does not look like they are willing to change their style from the last time they were here. The opening quarter of this one has flown by.
Here is the goal that separates the two sides, although the way this match is going it will not be the last we see here...

The formation of these teams seem to be all over the place today! Everyone is swarming everywhere chasing the ball, with very little thought for defending from either side so far. Great for the neutral!
The match is still being played at a frantic pace, but the flow of chances has just let up a little in the last 10 minutes or so.
Madrid are dominating possession again now as they begin to gain an element of control over the game again. A second goal for the hosts could see the floodgates open.
Rayo are beginning to look a little more solid defensively now, even if they are surrendering a lot of the possession. They have sacrificed some of their gung-ho attacking attitude and Madrid are now finding it a bit more difficult to get through.
OFF THE POST!  Madrid are inches away from doubling their advantage as Benzema tees up Kroos, who hammers a left-footed strike towards goal from the edge of the box. The keeper does not stand a chance, but the ball smashes against the upright.
SAVE!  Marcelo is the next to go for goal from range with his weaker foot and he gets it on target, but it lacks power and the keeper makes the save.
YELLOW CARD!  Galvez goes into the book for a foul on Vazquez, who was caught painfully on the back of his leg.
Advincula turns down a chance to play the ball through for Embarba's run and instead tries the Hollywood ball forward, but it is cut out by the defence too easily.
Rayo win a free kick in a good crossing position on the left flank, but it is wasted yet again as the delivery/shot flies well over. The visitors needed to make more of these good positions.
...and another one goes begging! Imbula plays the ball through for Embarba, who in turn tries to play a low ball into the six-yard box. Garcia would have been left with a tap-in, but Ramos was there to clear it away.
Real Madrid lead Rayo at half time at the Bernabeu, but quite how it is only 1-0 I'm not sure.

There was a really open period after the opening goal when both sides squandered chances to add to the scoring, but it is Madrid who have dominated for the most part and they certainly deserve their lead.

The only goal of the game so far arrived after only 13 minutes when Benzema swept his finish into the bottom corner, having been played through by Vazquez.

It was a confident finish from the French striker, who began the move himself, and at that stage it looked certain that we would see another goal before the break. However, it remains that Benzema goal which separates the two sides.

Madrid have also missed a golden chance through Asensio when he was denied while one on one, and Toni Kroos has also hit the post for the hosts.

However, Rayo could well be on the scoresheet themselves having seen Velazquez miss a couple of headed chances from set pieces. The best of those saw him glance his finish narrowly wide, having attacked the ball really well inside the area.

It has been a wide open game for the most part, with Rayo's defence looking very leaky at times - at least until they began to curb their attacking enthusiasm at the expense of their defensive work.

Madrid will know that Rayo can be dangerous going forward and that they can be shaky at the back themselves, though, so a second goal would be very welcome for the hosts.

KICKOFF:  Rayo get us back underway for the second half at the Bernabeu!
The next goal in this match could be crucial. It has been a strange game in many ways as one more Madrid goal could see them go on to hit the visitors for a big number once again, but if Rayo equalise then you could see them pushing on and causing more problems too.
It has been a scrappy start to this second half as both sides struggle to settle into the game again. Madrid still seeing more of the ball, though.
CHANCE!  Just as I say that, Madrid create a clear chance to double their lead! Modric turns his man brilliantly to break into the box before pulling the ball back for Asensio, who puts everything behind his half-volley but sees it stopped at point-blank range by the keeper.
Madrid are starting to step up a few gears now as they go in search of this second goal.
RAYO SUBS: A double change for Rayo sees Medran and Galvez replaced by Abdoulaye Ba and Manchester United legend Bebe.
Madrid win a free kick in a decent crossing position which is perfect for Kroos to whip in towards the far post, but he does not put enough pace on the delivery and it is cleared away easily.
We're approaching the hour mark now and still Real Madrid are far from certain in this game. They remain in control, but that one-goal lead is never safe.
SHOT!  Bebe tries his luck from range here as the ball drops to him from a corner, but he puts his 30-yard strike well off target.
Madrid are seeing all of the ball at the moment, and sooner rather than later Rayo will need to throw caution to the wind once again. They have already shown today that they can create chances against this Madrid team, but they have struggled with getting the balance right between attack and defence.
Madrid win another free kick in a good crossing position and this time it is floated in towards Ramos, but Tito makes an important interception.
YELLOW CARD!  Bebe goes into the book for a cynical pullback on Kroos.
DISALLOWED GOAL!  This time a Madrid free kick does produce something as Ramos meets Kroos's delivery and plants his header beyond the keeper. The offside flag is up, though, and a quick check with VAR proves that it is the right decision.
Real Madrid will, of course, take six points from their last two games, but as things stand it will only be back-to-back league 1-0 wins over the league's bottom two - again, not what we expect from a club like this.
SAVE!  Bebe lines up another long-range shot and this time he does cause Courtois problems, with the keeper opting against catching it despite it being straight down his throat.
It's been better from Rayo in the last few minutes, and they still have 20 minutes to get something out of this game. They will wonder how they are still in it, but they are.
REAL MADRID SUB: A change from the hosts as Dani Ceballos replaces Asensio.
RAYO SUB: A third and final change for the visitors here as Embarba trots off to be replaced by a more orthodox centre-forward in Alex Alegria.
SHOT!  Modric tries to step up the pace by bursting on to Benzema's pass, but his shot is wildly off target.
SHOT!  Good chance for Rayo to break as Alvaro almost finds himself through on goal, but he cannot make the most of it and a promising attack eventually ends with Imbula firing wide.
Asensio's withdrawal looks to be due to injury as he gets iced up on the bench. Interesting that Ceballos was chosen ahead of Isco to come on.
REAL MADRID SUB: Another injury concern swiftly follows as Benzema limps off to be replaced by Vinicius Junior.
...and now even more concern as Vazquez goes down and stays down. This time is does not look to be serious, though, and play quickly resumes.
Less than 10 minutes remaining now and it is surely time for Rayo to start opening the game up again now. They have done well to keep themselves in the game this far, but as things stand they are heading for another defeat.
YELLOW CARD!  Imbula becomes the latest player in the book.
Ba certainly hasn't held back in any of his challenges since coming on. He takes all of the ball, but then all of the man too to leave Vazquez in a heap on the floor.
Vinicius collects the ball in the area and his first touch sets up the shot, but the second takes a deflection on its way behind.
Free kick for Rayo in a decent crossing position as they look to test the Madrid defence from a set piece again...
Bebe clips the ball into the middle, but the offside flag is up.
CHANCE!  Rayo so nearly steal the victory at the death! Alegria produces an acrobatic volley from inside the area which Courtois needed to save, and the ball bounces out to Velazquez, who is also denied by the keeper. The ball then bounces against Carvajal on the line before Ramos makes a crucial challenge to deny another follow-up!
REAL MADRID SUB: A late change for Madrid sees Modric replaced by Fede Valverde.
Real Madrid return to winning ways, but you wouldn't think it from the reaction inside the Bernabeu here.

Fans greet full time with whistles as the hosts are forced to survive a late scare en route to a narrow 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Rayo, courtesy of Karim Benzema's first-half goal. Not convincing at all, but they are up to third and remarkably only two points off top now.

Right, that is all we have time for this evening!

Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for today's La Liga clash as Real Madrid scrape past struggling Rayo Vallecano at the Bernabeu. I will leave you with our match report, and be sure to stick around for reaction too.

From me, though, it is goodbye for now!

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La Liga Table
1Real Madrid65102181316
2Atletico MadridAtletico642095414
3Real Sociedad641196313
6Rayo Vallecano6312106410
8Real Betis62319729
9Athletic Bilbao62315329
17Celta Vigo6114610-44
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