Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 300th goal for Real Madrid to lead his side a 2-0 victory over Rayo Vallencao in an eagerly contested match at Vallecas. Fresh from his five-goal haul in Real Madrid’s 9-1 victory over Granada on Saturday, neither Ronaldo nor his team found it anything like as easy going at Vallecano. But his one goal on Wednesday 22 minutes from time was vital in helping Madrid keep the pressure on Barcelona at the top of La Liga. After Ronaldo broke the deadlock with a header from Dani Carvajal’s fine cross, the Portuguese then quickly turned provider for James Rodríguez to secure the points.

The win keeps Madrid four points behind Barcelona, after the Catalans’ victory over Almeria earlier in the day. And with eight matches remaining the Liga title race remains alive. While a Rayo side, currently ninth in the standings gave Madrid problems, there was again reason for encouragement for Carlo Ancelotti’s side after their midseason slump. James impressed on his return against Granada, laying on two assists, and he matched his nine assists in his first La Liga season with his ninth goal on Wednesday to again show that he could be a vital player for what still promises to be a big run-in to the end of the season for Real Madrid.

Following the return from suspension of Isco, Ancelotti had his full complement of attacking options available to him for the first time in 2015. With much scrutiny on who would have to sit on the bench, Ancelotti surprisingly opted against resting Gareth Bale following his knock against Granada. Instead, rather than the two “megastar” signings from the last two summers of Bale and James, it was the relatively modest capture, Isco, who, despite being outstanding for much of this season, was forced to start on the sidelines. Balancing his options and their egos will be a major challenge for Ancelotti going forward. But he will hope that there will be plenty of matches to keep everyone happy in their pursuit continuing not only for the Primera Division title but to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues.

It was not an easy evening for Madrid, though, against a Rayo Vallecano side that showed why they are one of Spain’s most attractive teams. Paco Jémez’s side were not afraid to take the game to the European champions, and they had plenty of the play in the opening half. After Ronaldo and James failed to make the most of early openings, Rayo tested Iker Casillas on multiple occasions. 

Having survived, Madrid were much better in the second half and were hugely unfortunate not to be handed a penalty six minutes after the break. Rayo defender Antonio Maya slid in on Ronaldo in the box, making no contact with the ball and plenty with the man, but somehow the referee decided it had been a dive from the Madrid star and, to Ronaldo’s amazement, produced a yellow card for simulation. The booking means he will miss Madrid’s match with Eibar on Saturday, but Ronaldo was to have the last laugh on this night.

Carvajal deserves much of the credit for the way he burst past a defender to cut in the box and then picked out Ronaldo with a perfect cross to open the scoring. And Madrid’s right-back was again heavily involved as the result was put beyond doubt five minutes later. This time he played a headed one-two with Ronaldo, allowing the forward to quickly pick out James, who found the bottom corner of the net from just inside the box.