A Keylor Navas-inspired Real Madrid opened up a three-point lead atop La Liga thanks to a 3-1 victory over 10-man Celta Vigo on Saturday.
The midfielder had been troubled by a hamstring injury, picked up while on international duty with Croatia a fortnight ago, but he followed up his midweek cameo against Paris Saint-Germain by replacing Isco, with Toni Kroos moving forward.
The Galicians, meanwhile, were unchanged from their 2-1 win at Villarreal last weekend and one game away from equaling their best-ever run of 14 without defeat and going eight unbeaten at Balaidos for the first time since 2003.
Nonetheless, Madrid had their own unbeaten start to maintain and needed just eight minutes to get off the mark, Cristiano Ronaldo smashing home Lucas Vazquez’s pullback, despite being off-balance.
Los Blancos then made it 2-0 midway through the first half as Jese Rodriguez took full advantage of Celta’s non-existent right flank, picking out Danilo, who coolly slotted home for his first Madrid goal.
It was a case of smash-and-grab on Madrid’s part, however, as Celta saw a succession of chances kept out by Navas, the Costa Rican most notably getting a hand to Fabian Orellana’s angled drive, before pushing away Iago Aspas’ point-blank strike and tipping over Pablo Hernandez’s powerful header.
Celta responded impressively after the restart, with Orellana sending a long-range effort just wide and blazing over Nolito’s layoff just inside the box, but they were dealt a timely blow when Gustavo Cabral was sent off for dissenting to the referee about Pablo Hernandez’s booking moments before.
The momentum of the game suddenly shifted to Madrid, who had Ronaldo fluff two shooting positions in the box, Sergio equal on both occasions, but they quickly retreated and opted to hold onto their lead, thus allowing Celta to take control of the latter stages.
And, minutes after seeing his shot cleared off the line by Marcelo, Nolito finally got onto the scoresheet, bending a spectacular effort into the top-left corner of Navas’ net to deservedly pull a goal back for the Galicians, with little under five minutes of normal time remaining.
They were then presented with the chance of a point when substitute John Guidetti was found unmarked in the box, only for the Swede to scoop his finish wide of Navas’ far post, the goalkeeper seemingly beaten.
With that, Madrid capitalised on Celta’s last-ditch decision to throw the kitchen sink at them and dispelled any fears of a home comeback as Marcelo slipped a third goal under Sergio from Denis Cheryshev’ perfectly-squared cross.
Celta Vigo 1-3 Real Madrid
Nolito 85 (CV) Ronaldo 8, Danilo 23, Marcelo 90 (RM)
Celta Vigo: Sergio; Mallo, Cabral, Gomez, Jonny; Fernandez, Hernandez (Planas 81), Wass (Radoja 67); Orellana (Guidetti 82), Aspas, Nolito
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro; Vazquez (Isco 62), Modric (Nacho 80), Jese (Cheryshev 70); Ronaldo
Referee: Clos Gomez
Cabral sent off 57 (CV)