Real Madrid moved up to second place in La Liga, at least temporarily, after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Celta Vigo at the Balaidos.
All the goals came in the second half, with Cristiano Ronaldo getting both for Madrid, but in between Celta briefly fighting back with an equalizer from Iago Aspas. The home side deserve plenty of credit for their positive approach and gave Madrid ample problems, but the tough defeat leaves them second from bottom and struggling to avoid an immediate return to the Segunda Division.
After Madrid’s stunning recent run, manager Jose Mourinho elected to make several changes to his side, leaving out the likes of Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria and Raphael Varane. The visitors did just enough to keep their momentum going and move a point ahead of Atletico Madrid, with their neighbors set to play Real Sociedad later in the day.
Despite the lack of goals in the first half, there was plenty to entertain. Ronaldo struck the cross bar with a header, while both goalkeeper had to be alert as Madrid’s Diego Lopez saved well from Aspas, while Celta’s Javi Varas repelled Jose Callejon’s shot at the near post.
Mourinho showed his determination to claim the three points as he brought on Alonso at the break and the playmaker almost created the opening goal with an excellent pass to Marcelo, but the full-back struck wildly over the bar.
After a long wait, the goals arrived in a flurry after the hour mark. Celta will have been disappointed with the opener as Varas failed to make good contact when coming out for a corner and Alonso’s shot from the edge of the box bounced up kindly for Ronaldo to strike into the unguarded net from close range.
The home side showed plenty of belief and purpose to try and get back into the game and within two minutes they were level. From Augusto Fernandez’s pullback, Aspas struck a shot on the turn that deflected wickedly off of Pepe and bounced into the corner to deceive the already-committed Lopez.
Not to be deterred, Madrid went back in front with 18 minutes remaining. Alonso was again heavily involved as his lofted ball over the top was raced onto by fellow-substitute Kaka. The Brazilian got to the pass just ahead of the outstretched leg of Varas and was brought down by the unlucky Celta goalkeeper to bring about a straightforward penalty award.
Ronaldo stepped up and with little fuss struck the ball straight down the middle with Varas diving early to his right.
The result was perhaps harsh on Celta, especially after they came so close to again pulling level. But Vadim Demidov’s shot deflected inches wide of the post and then on-loan Arsenal forward Chu-young Park headed against the crossbar when he should have found the net to condemn them to their fifth defeat in their last six outings.