Bale on target in Real victory
Gareth Bale scored on his return to the Real Madrid starting line-up for the first time in a month as the European champions beat Rayo Vallecano 5-1. Barcelona remain just two points behind the league leaders thanks to two assists from Luis Suarez as they came from behind to snap a two-game losing streak in La Liga with a 2-1 win at Almeria late on Saturday.
Bale took just nine minutes to make his mark as he slid in to turn home Toni Kroos’s low cross before Sergio Ramos’s fortunate looping effort doubled Madrid’s lead. An awful attempted backpass from James Rodriguez gave Rayo hope just before half-time as Alberto Bueno reduced the arrears, but Kroos restored the hosts’ two-goal advantage with his first goal for the club.
Karim Benzema added a dubious fourth despite being clearly in an offside position before Cristiano Ronaldo registered his 23rd goal of the season thanks to some generous goalkeeping from Cristian Alvarez. A pelvic muscle injury had kept Bale on the sidelines for five games prior to his return as a second-half substitute against Liverpool in midweek, and there were positive signs for Welsh boss Chris Coleman as he looked back to his best ahead of his country’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers against Belgium and Israel.
Bale was on hand to prod home the opener from close range after a neat one-two between Kroos and Ronaldo as Madrid started brightly. Ronaldo then uncharacteristically blazed over from inside the area and Alvarez did well to turn a curling effort from Rodriguez wide.
However, from the resulting corner Ramos made it 2-0 when the ball fortunately ricocheted off his thigh into the top corner. Rayo were gifted a reward for their neat possession football two minutes before the break, though, as Rodriguez passed the ball straight to Leo Baptistao and the on-loan Atletico Madrid striker squared for Bueno to slot into an empty net.
Baptistao thought he had brought Rayo level 10 minutes into the second period, but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside call and within seconds Madrid had put the game to bed.
Ronaldo cut the ball back for Kroos 25 yards from goal and the German World Cup winner bent home his first goal for the club with a low precise finish. Four minutes later it was 4-1 as Benzema turned home Ronaldo’s miscued shot and this time the goal did stand despite the Frenchman being clearly in an offside position.
Bale was denied a sensational second of the night when Alvarez turned his thunderous volley onto the bar, but the ‘keeper undid his good work when he allowed Ronaldo’s weak effort through his body to round off a 13th consecutive victory in all competitions for Madrid.
Earlier, Barca were bailed out by a superb second-half performance by Suarez and Neymar, intitially left on the bench by boss Luis Enrique. Bifouma put hosts Almeria ahead in the 37th minute before Neymar (73rd) and Jordi Alba (82nd) scored to save Barca the blushes.