Real Madrid reduced the gap once again to second-placed Atletico Madrid to four points and jumped above Valencia to third in the table following their 2-1 win over Malaga on Sunday evening.
Although there were short spells where Boquerones looked in the ascendancy, for the most part, Los Blancos enjoyed orchestrating the tempo of the match, with Isco’s sublime free-kick and a scintillating team move, which was rounded off by Casemiro, proving the difference on the scoreline, despite Diego Rolan’s last-minute concilation somewhat removing the gloss.
In truth, however, the most notable aspect of the Spanish capital side’s showing was the personnel involved, with debutant Jesus Vallejo, Achraf Hakimi, Dani Ceballos, Theo Hernandez and Borja Mayoral all securing rare minutes as part of the heavily rotated but impressive outfit.
As expected, Real Madrid took complete control of the contest during the opening stages; however, it took the visitors around 15 minutes to call Malaga goalkeeper Roberto Gago into action.
Lucas Vazquez, as he had from the outset, found space on the right-hand side before delivering an inviting cross towards the penalty spot, which was met by the head of Mateo Kovacic.
But the 23-year-old’s powerful attempt, which looked destined to nestle into the bottom corner, was superbly stopped by the 32-year-old custodian, whose outstretched arm somehow pawed the ball away from goal to keep the scores level.
As the half ticked on, Los Blancos continued to assert their dominance; however, Malaga’s admirable resolve held, with both Vazquez and Karim Benzema spurning opportunities from close range thanks to Boquerones’ defensive pressure.
But Jose Lopez’s men finally succumbed to the growing intensity, as shortly before the half-hour mark, Real Madrid took a deserved lead through former Estadio La Rosaleda favourite, Isco.
The 25-year-old, who spent two years on the Spanish south coast before swapping it for the nation’s capital, was entrusted with the responsibility of free-kick duty in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence. And the attacker took his opportunity by bending a beautifully-struck strike over the wall and past the helpless Roberto before offering his apologies to those who continue to hold his name in such high regard.
After going ahead, complacency seemingly began to creep into Zinedine Zidane’s men’s game, with one or two errors offering Malaga a look in on Keylor Navas’ goal, although veteran Manuel Iturra was the only one able to test the Costa Rican before referee Ricardo Bengoetxea brought an end to the first 45 minutes.
After the break, the hosts began to enjoy a more significant foothold in the tie, with Boquerones seeing a vastly increased amount of possession in the opposition third compared to the first half.
But, as has been the case throughout the campaign, Malaga were eventually punished for their lacklustre showing in front of goal, as Casemiro tapped home from close range to double Real Madrid’s lead and round off a superb team goal.
The move started at the Brazilian’s feet; after the midfielder broke up an opposition attack before feeding Benzema on the edge of the area, whose quick trickery opened up the opportunity to slide Isco in behind the defence ahead of the Spaniard squaring the ball across the face of goal; offering the 26-year-old a simple finish past a stranded Roberto.
As the final whistle approached, Madrid continued to press for their third, and Sergio Ramos found himself, as he often does, in a position to add the cherry to the performance from six yards out after a lung-busting run from his own area.
But the club captain was unable to provide the clinical finish his and Benzema’s efforts deserved, after the Frenchman’s superb carry during a counter-attack, and the ball nestled into the arms of Roberto.
And on the stroke of the full-time whistle, it was the 32-year-old’s own goal that was rippling, as team-mate Vallejo, who had enjoyed such an impressive debut, got his feet in a tangle and allowed Rolan to grab nothing more than a conciliation seconds before referee Bengoetxea brought an end to proceedings.