Gareth Bale scored an emphatic winner as Real Madrid came back from two goals down to beat Rayo Vallecano 3-2 in La Liga on Saturday.
Jese Rodriguez was the man entrusted with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo on Madrid’s left wing as Mateo Kovacic was given a rare opportunity to add to his 309 minutes under Zinedine Zidane in central midfield.
The last time these two sides met came last December, when Madrid trounced Rayo 10-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, but such “abuse” – a term used by Paco Jemez to describe his players’ feelings after the final whistle on that occasion – wasn’t seen at Vallecas as the Coach’s side took the lead on just seven minutes.
Capitalising on naïve defending from Danilo down the left, Bebe surged towards the left-hand byline and cut the ball back for an unmarked Embarba, who squeezed a finish through Marcelo legs and into the back of the net against the club he represented as a youth player.
Antonio Amaya then beat Raphael Varane in the air from a corner and saw his knock-down for Miku take a deflection off the Blancos defender and subsequently fired past Keylor Navas on the volley by the Venezuelan.
It could’ve got even better for Rayo when Embarba was away in the clear with only Navas to beat, yet the goalkeeper crashed into the winger and collected the ball on the second attempt, although replays showed the Costa Rican went into his opponent feet-first.
Bebe then unleashed a piledriver, which moved in the air and forced Navas into parrying the ball wide at full stretch, but Madrid weren’t without their chances, Karim Benzema having been completely unmarked when he took down Kovacic’s ball over the top near the penalty spot, but he could only flick his finish over Juan Carlos’ crossbar.
Nonetheless, Bale underlined his status as La Liga’s best at heading a ball as he powerfully glanced home a corner, leaving Madrid in with a shout of extending their winning run against Rayo to 16 matches, but they were dealt a huge blow when Benzema hobbled off at the end of the first half.
Yet Madrid grew in the face of adversity and equalised just seven minutes into the second half as Danilo redeemed himself with a pinpoint cross for substitute Vazquez, who powered a header past Juan Carlos for back-to-back goals.
Jese was then released down the right by Bale’s flicked header and proceeded to break into the Rayo box, but his shot was pushed away by Juan Carlos from point-blank range.
Madrid would get even closer, and probably too close as the impression that it simply wasn’t their day loomed large, when shades of Paul Gascoigne for England at Euro 96 were evoked, Bale’s drilled cross into the penalty area from the left being read by Vazquez for a certain goal, only for the ball to roll through the winger’s legs.
But with Bale lasting the entirety of the match and proving a constant thorn for the Rayo defence all afternoon, the Welshman emerged with the winner in the final 10 minutes as he was through on goal, left Antonio Amaya for dead with blistering pace and a measured first touch and fired a finish hard and low across Juan Carlos.
Rayo still had time to cause the upset through Miku deep in added time, the ball having dropped to the striker in the visitors’ area, but his daisy-cutter was deflected over the bar in last-gasp fashion by Varane.
Rayo Vallecano 2-3 Real Madrid
Embarba 7, Miku 14 (RV) Bale 35, 81, Vazquez 52 (RM)
Rayo Vallecano: Juan Carlos; Quini, Amaya, Crespo, Tito (Rat 78); Hernandez (Guerra 54), Jozabed (Iturra 54) Trashorras, Embarba; Miku, Bebe
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Isco, Modric, Kovacic (James 78); Bale, Benzema (Vazquez 42), Jese (Modric 63)
Referee: Hernandez Hernandez