Gareth Bale was Real Madrid’s match-winner again as his header was enough for a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad to keep his side in the La Liga title race.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema didn’t travel as they continued their recoveries from a hamstring and knee injury respectively, with Toni Kroos joining them out the team, while La Real, who beat Barcelona 1-0 when they hosted the Catalans three weeks ago, were without seven players, including Imanol Agirretxe, Inigo Martinez and Carlos Vela.
James Rodriguez looked to take advantage of a rare start as he took just 10 minutes to test Geronimo Rulli, Luka Modric’s square ball finding Nacho Fernandez, who in turn fed the Colombian in the box from the left, but the midfielder’s sliding shot was turned away by the goalkeeper.
Gareth Bale, the only member of Madrid’s ‘BBC’ front line, then met a corner in the penalty area and powered a header towards Rulli’s goal, but his effort flew just wide, before James found Bale’s head with a swirling cross from the left, yet the forward sent the ball off-target again.
That wasn’t to say La Real didn’t have opportunities of their own, however. Bruma, who scored in the 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu last December, should’ve reacted quicker to Keylor Navas’ unconvincing clearance from outside his box as he hesitated to a chorus of whistles from his fans.
Nonetheless, he almost redeemed himself, the Galatasaray loanee taking on a series of navy jerseys down the left, before squaring the ball for Barca match-winner Mikel Oyarzabal in the penalty area, although the youngster could only flick the ball into the path of Navas.
Madrid responded to that close shave through Nacho, who raced down the left and entered the box totally unmarked, but La Real got numbers back just in time to block his shot before it could cross the line as Bale was then booked for throwing himself into Mikel Gonzalez in an attempt to steal the 50-50.
La Real tightened up defensively as the match wore thin, and it was looking like one of those days for Madrid as Yuri Berchiche made a mess of his clearance from James’ cross as it fell straight to Bale in the penalty area, but the unmarked Welshman’s low shot was kept out by Rulli’s extended leg.
Luka Modric then tried to force the issue, having embarked on a run similar to Saul Niguez’s against Bayern Munich, before getting to the edge of the box and feeding substitute Jese Rodriguez down the right, but his cross-cum-shot was deflected away by Rulli.
Nonetheless, much like he did at Vallecas a week ago, Bale came to Madrid’s rescue as Lucas Vazquez’s cross was met by the Welshman, whose powerful header soared past Rulli and into the roof of the goalkeeper’s net for a crucial three points to provisionally move Los Merengues top of the pack with two matches to spare.
Real Sociedad 0-1 Real Madrid
Real Sociedad: Rulli; Zaldua, Elustondo, Mikel, Yuri (Litri 85); Prieto, Illarramendi, Bergara (Reyes 68); Bruma (Bautista 76), Oyarzabal, Zurutuza
Real Madrid: Navas; Danilo, Ramos, Varane, Nacho; James (Isco 73), Modric (Kovacic 85), Casemiro; Bale, Mayoral (Jese 65), Vazquez
Referee: Undiano Mallenco