Real Madrid signed off from La Liga with a slender 1-0 victory over Real Vallecano on Saturday.
However, it was far from plain-sailing for Madrid, despite Karim Benzema's sixth League goal of the season, as they struggled to turn style into substance and were spared by Thibaut Courtois saves.
Gareth Bale pulled up with an ankle injury during Madrid's 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League midweek, so Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio flanked Benzema up top.
Elsewhere, Courtois kept his place in goal, Santiago Solari named a full-strength backline and Luka Modric returned with Toni Kroos in Los Blancos’ midfield, yet Isco had to settle for a place on the bench again after he was whistled by his own fans against CSKA.
Madrid battered Rayo 10-2 when the sides last met at the Santiago Bernabeu in the 2015-16 campaign, and Los Vallecanos went into the game second-from-bottom in La Liga, four points adrift with only two wins to their name.
Luka Modric paraded the Ballon d'Or in front of Madrid's fans before kick-off, having finally ended the Ronaldo-Messi duopoly on December 3.
Benzema quickly gave Los Merengues the lead when he latched on to Lucas Vazquez’s slide-rule pass in the Rayo box and slotted a finish past Stole Dimitrievski.
Marco Asensio then had a one-on-one blocked by Dimitrievski, yet Rayo could – and should – have equalised through Alex Galvez, who sent a free header wide from a corner/
Benzema teed up Kroos for a daisy-cutter, which smacked the base of the goalkeeper’s right-hand spot, before Ramos was in an offside position when he headed in a corner.
It went downhill for Madrid after that, starting with Asensio picking up a suspected thigh injury and Benzema following him through the pain barrier just days before the Club World Cup.
Former Manchester United attacker Bebe then unleashed a piledriver from 25 yards out, which Courtois managed to push away, before the Belgian pushed Alex Alegria’s close-range volley off the line.
Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Llorente, Kroos; Vazquex, Benzema (Vinicius 78), Asensio (Ceballos 71)
Rayo Vallecano: Dimitrievski; Tito, Galvez (Ba 54), Velazquez, Alex Moreno, Advincula, Imbula, Santi, Medran (Bebe 54), Alvaro, Embarba (Alegria 73)
Referee: De Burgos Bengoetxea
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