Never before has a 10-2 win meant so little. Real Madrid’s trouncing of Rayo Vallecano – the first time they’d hit double figures for 55 years – before the mini Christmas break didn’t fool their demanding supporters and there remains a difficult atmosphere around the Bernebeu.
Los Blancos fans were even cheering Rayo’s nine men at times during the second-half of that derby contest and the outcome could have been so different. The minnows started really brightly, and bounced back from conceding early to be 2-1 ahead after 12 minutes.
Madrid’s superstars looked bemused and out of ideas. The whistles and jeers reigned down from the stands and Rafa Benitez’s boys were sinking. Luckily for them, Rayo right-back Tito was deserved sent off, Gareth Bale equalised and then Paco Jemez’s visitors saw midfielder Raul Baena dismissed too. Cristiano Ronaldo converted from a penalty before Real ran riot.
The capital club are yet to click under Benitez despite a smattering of battering’s for Rayo, Betis, Espanyol and Malaga. Sure, he’s been hampered by injuries – fielding the same XI just twice in 23 games – but the 10-time European champions have been humiliated 4-0 by Barcelona, thrown out of the Copa del Rey and look the least likely of Spain’s big-three to take the title.
At this stage of last season, with more or less the same group of players, Carlo Ancelotti was overseeing a 22-game winning streak culminating in a Club World Cup victory. How the mood has changed in Madrid.
However, despite all the negativity, Real remain just two points adrift of Atletico and Barcelona. The simple rule at the Bernebeu is to win and win pretty and although Benitez has failed to sufficiently hit the spot thus far, his side have smashed 22 goals in their last three games on home soil.
Now, more than ever, Rafa needs his side to win, and win with style to satisfy the ever-demanding Madrid crowd. Los Blancos do tend to conquer La Liga’s lesser lights – they’ve bagged 21 wins in 25 home league games, beaten 18 of their last 19 bottom-half visitors and since 2012/13 they’ve W35-D2-L0 against the same opponents, winning 23/37 (62%) by three goals or more.
Real are expected to field Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos as they return from injury with James Rodriguez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale all set to start. Having scored at least four goals in each of their last five when Real Sociedad have travelled to the Bernebeau, another big win shouldn’t be dismissed.
The Basque boys have recorded a solitary success in six and been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Las Palmas in the past month. They sit just two points above the drop zone and lost each of their previous 10 trips to either Real or Barcelona. Although they’ve improved their dismal away record this term, they’ve only picked up one point from a possible 12 at teams above them in the standings.
Real can be backed at 2.05 off a -2.5 Asian handicap, which holds appeal. I’ll be getting on-board at that price.
Elsewhere, after 15 games and two-and-a-half months, Atletico Madrid tasted defeat. Diego Simeone’s side had W12-D3-L0, including nine successive victories in La Liga, and knew a solitary point would be enough to put Los Colchoneros top of the tree for Christmas.
But the Mattress Makers fell to a 1-0 defeat at Malaga – Charles’ deflected shot four minutes from time doing the damage – and blew a fantastic chance to keep their title challenge strong. It was a deserved defeat at La Rosaleda with keeper Jan Oblak the side’s standout performer, especially after visiting captain Gabi’s silly sending off early in the second half.
Their slip-up in Andalusia saw Atletico miss a chance to make a big statement in Spain and Simeone accepted post-match that his side just weren’t good enough. But you can bet your bottom dollar that Los Colchoneros will redouble their efforts to get back on track this midweek.
The industrious Atleti take a short journey to the Madrid suburbs of Vallecas to face Rayo Vallecano in a game that finished 0-0 last term. A repeat of that night when profligate finishing cost them a nailed-on three points cannot be entertained and I expect the visitors’ watertight backline to make the difference against wide-open Rayo.
Atletico will be without Gabi and Filipe Luis but Saul and Guilherme Siqueira are able replacements, capable of extending a stunning run of results against the bottom-half under Simeone. Since 2012/13, the travellers have W54-D8-L6 against the league’s lesser lights with W22-D6-L6 returned on the road.
As mentioned above, Rayo are at rock bottom after their whipping at Real, a result that prompted fuming boss Paco Jemez to say: “We’ve been humiliated, trodden on. This does no one any good. They’ll have seen this around the world and the image of Spanish football is damaged. There are players the size of trucks who have prepared all their lives for moments like this that are crying in the dressing room.”
Los Franjirrojos will be desperate to bounce back but with Raul Baena, Tono and Nacho all missing due to bans, four defeats on the spin and at least two goals leaked in each, it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able to overcome the immovable object that is Simeone’s side.
Rayo flourish against bottom-half dwellers but their attractive possession-based ideology and often gung-ho approach is rigid enough to leave them exposed against the big guns. Atletico aren’t quite Barcelona or Real Madrid in terms of attacking ferocity but they can make the trends against the hosts look even worse.
Paco’s charges have W4-D3-L38 against the top-10 since 2012/13 and W2-D3-L15 at Vallecas against the same opposition. Incredibly, Rayo have had 32/45 (71%) L-L double results – 13/21 (62%) at home – in that time and that’s the angle I’ll take here considering the visitors have led at the interval in six of their seven triumphs against the bottom-half this season. Atletico can be snapped up at 2.41 to be leading at half-time and full-time.