Real Madrid closed the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona, albeit potentially temporarily, to seven points after managing to eventually drag themselves to a 3-2 win over Malaga on Saturday afternoon.
Karim Benzema’s early point-blank opener gave the hosts a deserved lead, but was quickly cancelled out by striker Diego Rolan less than 10 minutes later with his side’s first away goal of the season.
But just moments afterwards, Los Blancos restored their lead courtesy of Casemiro, an advantage that could arguably have only lasted until half-time had the referee’s decision to rather harshly disallow Boquerones’ second of the afternoon on the stroke of the break been avoided.
However, justice was served midway through the second half, with a costly goalkeeping error allowing Chory Castro to level things up from range before Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty rebound with 15 minutes to go eventually sealing a vital three points for the Spanish capital side.
It was a fairly even start inside the Santiago Bernabeu – packed out as ever – with Malaga’s counter attack in the opening stages showing promise.
However, it seemed an afternoon where the hosts were not prepared to lose any more ground on current league leaders Barcelona, with Los Blancos going forward with both pace and purpose, and it only took nine minutes for that to make a difference, as Benzema netted the opener.
The Frenchman was left with the simplest of finishes into an unguarded goal after Ronaldo’s initial headed effort dragged Malaga keeper Roberto towards his far post before cannoning off the crossbar and finding its way into the path of the Real striker to convert from close range.
However, Madrid’s advantage was short lived, as just nine minutes later hosts’ custodian
Kiko Casilla was left to pick the ball out the back of his net after Toni Kroos’ lackadaisical backpass found the feet of Keko, whose first time delivery was dispatched home by Rolan to secure Boquerones’s first away league goal of the season.
Less than 60 seconds after drawing level, Malaga found themselves three-on-three with the Real defence, but poor decision making allowed Los Blancos to fashion a break of their own and force a corner, which then provided the opportunity for Madrid to grab the lead once again.
Zinedine Zidane’s side’s second of the afternoon came as simply as any can from a set piece, with Casemiro rising above the rest deep inside the visitors’ area to nod home Kroos’ cross for his third of the campaign, and put his side back in the driving seat after a rather frantic opening 20 minutes.
As the half ticked on neither side really threatened in front of goal, but the opening 45 came to an end shrouded in controversy with referee Jesus Gil Manzano well in the centre of it.
During the final additional minute, Real captain Marcelo was booked for a challenge near the centre circle, allowing Malaga one last opportunity to get back on level terms before the break.
The cross was lifted into the area and substitute defender Paul Baysse rose above Dani Carvajal and directed his header into the back of the net, only for the 33-year-old official to seemingly draw the half to a close while the ball was en-route past Casilla for a push on the Spaniard.
Understandably the extremely soft decision provoked and less than impressed reaction from Malaga’s players and manager, but despite their protests the score remained 2-1 at the break.
As the sides re-emerged for the second-half, Real struggled to really get back into their stride, and just before the hour mark found themselves pegged back yet again as Castro’s long-range effort skipped under Casilla to give Malaga a deserved second of the afternoon.
The 33-year-old picked up the ball around 30 yards out from goal before unleashing his low, swerving pot-shot, which seemed to get the better of the Spanish shot stopper as it squirming under his hands and into the back of the net.
After drawing level again the visitors looked the side most likely out of the two to grab a third, however, as Luka Modric was brought down in the area with 15 minutes to go, it allowed Ronaldo to eventually double his tally for the season.
The 32-year-old, who had converted just 2.6% of his chances in the league this term ahead of kick off, finally slotted home from the rebound to spark sheer relief inside the Santiago Bernabeu after his initial penalty was well saved by Roberto.
That is how the tie remained, and it is now over to Barcelona, who come up against fellow high-flyers Valencia on Sunday evening, to put the pressure back on their Clasico rivals.