Toni Kroos scored an impressive volley as Real Madrid beat Cádiz 2-1 to reduce the gap to La Liga leaders Barcelona to two points.
In the last league game before the break for the World Cup in Qatar, Carlo Ancelotti’s men tried to catch up with their staunch rival, who beat Osasuna on Tuesday.
The match threatened to turn ugly at times, with Cádiz committing repeated fouls on Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior, but Madrid picked up the points they needed thanks to Eder Militao’s header and then Kroos’ amazing goal.
Lucas Pérez cut one back for Cádiz in the closing stages, ensuring that second-placed Madrid have not kept a clean sheet at home in La Liga this season and have conceded in seven successive league games.
“We had chances but we suffered a bit with the goal that we conceded unnecessarily. I think we played a good game.”
Madrid were without striker Karim Benzema after he failed to train on Wednesday, but he has been included in France’s World Cup squad.
Without the Ballon d’Or winner, Madrid lacked sparkle in attack, and perhaps some minds had turned to the next tournament in Qatar.
Those of Kroos, yes, did not lose focus and with an assist and his goal ensured the white victory.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Pacha Espino’s long shot hit the top of the crossbar for the visitors, but they had few chances to notice before Madrid opened the scoring.
Militao headed in a Kroos cross in the 40th minute, doing well to stay in play a bit and escape any defensive attention after a corner was partially cleared.
The only other action of the first half came in the form of a series of jostling between the two teams, with Vinicius taking on defender Fali, who had hit Rodrygo with his arm off the ball.
“They defend themselves in their own way. I think we have to be a bit calmer and focus more on playing football,” added Kroos.
“If we react then they make us play their game. That’s what they want, to waste time with every argument. I prefer to stay on the sidelines and play football, because we are better.”
Rodrygo was angry after the crash, in which Fali’s blow towards him seemed deliberate.
“I don’t think it’s (just) an incident, he did it on purpose, he looked at me and hit me,” Rodrygo told DAZN.
“It’s embarrassing because later he told me that he didn’t do anything. I don’t know why VAR is there.”
The second half meandered until former Germany international Kroos brought the fans to their feet with a special strike in the 70th minute, volleying in from outside the area after a cross went wide.
The third should have come soon after, but Luka Modric missed a shot with an open goal after Vinicius clipped the ball in the area.
Hardly able to believe that he had failed, the Santiago Bernabéu chanted Modric’s name. After so many years of unblemished service, the veteran Croatian midfielder could be forgiven this time.
“I told him thank goodness the Croatia team had already been announced,” Ancelotti joked on DAZN.
“We could have scored the third, it was quite simple, and after that you suffer a bit, they mark you against you, but in the end we got three important points.”
Thibaut Courtois spilled a shot that should have been handled better and Pérez charged to give Cádiz hope in the closing stages.
Espino could have equalized for the visitors, 19, in the 93rd minute, but he headed in when Madrid held on.
Earlier, Valencia beat Real Betis 3-0, with Andre Almeida scoring an excellent free-kick in a rainy Mestalla and Hugo Guillamon adding the second from the penalty spot.
Justin Kluivert scored the third in stoppage time to round off an impressive win for the hosts, who moved up to 10th.
Betis, who finished with 10 men after Edgar González was sacked, could have moved third with a win but sat sixth instead.
Rayo Vallecano drew 0-0 at home against Celta de Vigo.