Real Madrid recorded a much-needed second victory of the season without putting on a performance worthy of the La Liga champions on Monday, winning 2-0 at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid after goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Benzema scored the 13th-minute opener and Ronaldo added a penalty in the 70th minute after Jordi Amat had handled the ball in the box to keep Madrid eight points behind league leaders Barcelona after five rounds of matches.
“Rayo have a great team with quality players and they made it very tough for us,” Real Madrid defender Pepe said. “We have to keep fighting. This has just begun and we have to take each game seriously, so we can cut into [Barcelona’s] lead little by little.”
In a match delayed by a day due to the stadium lights at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas being cut in an act of sabotage, Real showed little of the verve from their memorable victory over Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League last week.
Instead, Jose Mourinho’s squad returned to their uninspired domestic form against one of the league’s more modest teams, needing a flash of individual talent and a defensive error to take the critical three points.
While far from bubbling with praise for his players, Mourinho has obviously seen improvement since the previous round when he said he “didn’t have a team” and questioned his players’ commitment after losing 1-0 at Sevilla.
“The team was a team, but we could have played better,” Mourinho said. “During long stretches of last season we were always on target and routed our rivals, but right now we are not playing well. We have no confidence.”
Also on Monday, Sevilla won 2-0 at RC Deportivo de La Coruna thanks to second-half goals by Alvaro Negredo and Ivan Rakitic, keeping the Andalusian side undefeated and four points behind Barcelona.
Team P GD PTS
1 Barcelona 5 11 15
2 RCD Mallorca 5 4 11
3 Malaga 5 4 11
4 Sevilla 5 4 11
5 Atletico Madrid 4 6 10
6 Real Betis Balompie 4 3 9
7 Real Madrid 5 3 7
8 Rayo Vallecano de Madrid 5 -1 7
9 Levante UD 5 -2 7
10 RC Deportivo de La Coruna 5 0 6
11 RC Celta de Vigo 5 0 6
12 Real Zaragoza 5 -1 6
13 Real Valladolid 5 -1 6
14 Real Sociedad 5 -3 6
15 Valencia 5 -2 5
16 Athletic Bilbao 5 -4 5
17 Getafe 5 -4 4
18 Granada 5 -6 2
19 RCD Espanyol 5 -4 1
20 CA Osasuna 5 -7 1
The Spanish capital derby was held after electricians repaired the various cables that were damaged at Rayo’s stadium by unidentified persons on Sunday, in what club president Raul Martin Presa called “football terrorism.”
Sergio Ramos returned to the starting lineup after Mourinho had left him on the bench for Real Madrid’s win over City, apparently singling out the Spain defender for his team’s loss in the previous round.
“I don’t know if it was a punishment,” Ramos said, adding that he thought his absence from the City match was due to “tactical reasons.”
Angel di Maria teed up Real’s opener when the Argentina international was given time on the left flank to pick out Benzema at the far post and thread a pass between three defenders for his striker to tap into the net. It was Benzema’s first goal in the league this season.
Twice in the first four rounds Madrid had looked set to cruise to an easy win after going ahead early, only to let victory slip away and Mourinho’s team appeared close to repeating the pattern on Monday after slowing up following a strong start.
Rayo almost struck back from a set-piece in the 33rd minute. Striker Andrija Delibasic drew a reflex save from goalkeeper Iker Casillas with his header and Xabi Alonso was well-positioned on the goal-line to block Jose Casado’s volleyed rebound.
Real defender Alvaro Arbeloa came near to gifting Rayo an equalizer in the 52nd minute when he failed to spot Leonardo Carrilho before passing back to Casillas, but the forward squandered the chance.