After a challenging few results across the league and cup competitions, Spanish champions Real Madrid continued their recent resurgence with a well-fought 1-0 win over Real Valladolid. A superb header in the second half from Casemiro was enough to take them past the finish line in what was a largely frustrating LaLiga Santander encounter.
Head coach Zinedine Zidane was forced to name an altered XI amidst what is a frighteningly bad injury crisis, with star striker Karim Benzema becoming the latest big-name player to succumb to an injury — Real Madrid's 41st of the campaign — ahead of this game.
The bench for the game against the Albivioletas consisted of up to five reserve team players and two goalkeepers, with only 11 senior outfield players available to him.
However, the side fielded by the Frenchman showed great character and ground out a 1-0 of great significance, given that they gained valuable points over league leaders Atletico Madrid. The Rojiblancos suffered their second loss of the campaign on Saturday and the point difference between the two rivals stands at three points, setting the stage for a blockbuster Madrid derby in two weeks' time.
The first half was arguably one of the Blancos' most uninspiring halves of football this season that saw no shots on target (Valladolid produced three) despite seeing 72% of the ball. The only goal they did manage to score was chalked off after Mariano Diaz, who had a night to forget, was deemed to be offside.
Casemiro came close to scoring on two separate occasions in the half from two corners, but failed to capitalise and give Real an advantage.
Despite not making any changes at the break, the same XI produced a much-improved display in the second half, with the crowning moment coming in the 65th minute. Toni Kroos delivered a sublime ball into the box from a free-kick that was met by Casemiro, who rose above the rest to put the ball to Jordi Masip's far left. The ball clipped the inside of the post and found the back of the net for the game's only goal.
While Casemiro might have won the game for his side with Kroos' assistance, it was Thibaut Courtois who awarded the Man of the Match and rightly so. The brilliant Belgian kept his side in the game with a string of stunning saves, including two from point-blank range to mop up after his defence's inability to deal with the danger.
Courtois made a total of five saves on the night, with four from within the box to register his 15th (!) clean sheet of the campaign.
Valladolid deserve praise for their effort on the night at the Jose Zorrilla as they fought valiantly to keep their illustrious visitors at bay for large parts of the game and threatened to breach Courtois' net as well. However, Sergio Gonzales' men efforts were in vain as they were undone by one moment of brilliance from Zidane's side.
Here are some of the best tweets from the game as Real Madrid move three points closer to the top of LaLiga Santander!