Real Madrid moved into first place in La Liga with a 2-1 victory at home to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night, despite the threat of a fightback from their in-form visitors.
Rayo Vallecano, buoyed by an impressive return to the top flight that has seen them rise to sixth place, began the game with understandable confidence. Haring around the pitch with an aggressive intensity, Rayo tried to put the Madrid player receiving a pass under pressure.
Eder Militao bypassed this press with one stab over the top that Toni Kroos nodded on to Vinicius Junior darting into the middle. Marco Asensio found Kroos at the top of the box in enough space to stuff a shot into the top corner and open the scoring - following a short VAR check - inside a quarter of an hour.
Keeping Rayo at arm's length, Madrid controlled the first half, limiting the visitors to pot-shots from distance and teasing open gaps with rapid interchanges across the pitch. Karim Benzema ensured this superiority was reflected in the scoreline, doubling Madrid's lead in the 38th-minute as he back-pedalled onto an exquisite pass threaded onto his instep by David Alaba.
As Rayo increasingly pushed forward in search of a way back into the contest, the game opened up, granting Madrid space to launch the counter-attack opportunities that have proved so lethal of late. Yet, not on Saturday night it seemed.
Inside ten minutes of the restart, both Asensio and Vinicius Junior - who saw a first half goal ruled out - failed to apply the finishing touch to a pair of swift thrusts up the pitch. The 21-year-old Brazilian combined brilliantly with Ferland Mendy to tee up Benzema for another presentable opening that he squandered shortly after the hour mark.
Those missed chances suddenly took on greater importance when Rayo's second half substitute Radamel Falcao (in a 12-minute, injury-curtailed cameo) nodded the visitors back into the game in the 77th minute. Madrid's post and confidence had been rattled seconds early after Bebe drove forward, taking advantage of Benzema overplaying at the other end.
Rayo almost snatched a point in stoppage time, as Oscar Valentin scrambled a weak shot goalward from a corner that Kroos hooked clear.
Real Madrid player ratings
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Thibaut Courtois (GK) - 7/10 - Commanding presence in the face of Rayo's frequent aerial deliveries.
Dani Carvajal (RB) - 7/10 - Caught dozing within 30 seconds of the opening whistle but sharpened up thereafter.
Eder Militao (CB) - 8/10 - Prepared to break Rayo's press with an adventurous pass or bravely driving past the sashed shirts with the ball at his feet.
David Alaba (CB) - 6/10 - Superb when stepping out of the backline but detrimentally turned his back as Falcao lined up Rayo's goal.
Ferland Mendy (LB) - 6/10 - Slotted serenely into Madrid's backline.
Eduardo Camavinga (CM) - 7/10 - Produced a remarkably composed, rather than revolutionary, display that belied a player still just 18 years of age.
Casemiro (CM) - 8/10 - Dropping between his centre backs to help build up Madrid's attacks, the Brazilian was back to his best at breaking up those mounted by the visitors.
Toni Kroos (CM) - 8/10 - Constantly looking to get on the ball, Kroos played as if he had a three-second delay while Rayo players were crashing around in real time.
Marco Asensio (RW) - 7/10 - Granted a rare start, Asensio grew into the contest as he dovetailed devilishly with Carvajal down the right.
Karim Benzema (ST) - 7/10 - Despite netting a customary goal, the ridiculously in-form Frenchman may be left to rue the chances he missed.
Vinicius Junior (LW) - 7/10 - Increasingly influential as his blistering speed exploited the swathes of grass opening across the pitch, but just as untouchable in the tightest of spaces.
Eden Hazard (ST) - 5/10
Lucas Vazquez (RW) - 5/10
Nacho Fernandez (RB) - N/A