Real Madrid scrape precious Racing win
Real Madrid 1 – 0 Racing Santander
A single goal scored by in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain was enough to clinch Real Madrid three precious points over lowly Racing Santander and send them to the top of La Liga ahead of Barcelona’s testing trip to Bilbao.
Under-fire Real coach Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to drop the iconic Raul from his starting line-up in recent weeks has been fully vindicated by the goal-scoring exploits of 21-year-old Higuain and the Argentine was on the mark to bag his fourth goal in his last three appearances.
Real started the match in confident mood and Karim Benzema – who is forming a dynamic partnership with Higuain in attack – looked eager to impress after being snubbed for 200 minutes of play-off football for France under Raymond Domenech last week.
The first chance of the game however, fell to Racing with former Liverpool star Luis Garcia stretching to shoot inside the 18-yard box only to see his effort raise high over the bar.
Another former Liverpool favourite was next to come closest to an opener on 13 minutes as Xabi Alonso thumped a well-struck shot from 25 yards against the foot of the post.
Real’s bright start began to fall flat with Kaka proving a peripheral figure until the 19th minute when he showed a glimpse of his ability by curling a shot from left-to-right that required the out-stretched fingertips of Racing goalkeeper Tono to turn over the bar.
The attempt lifted the home side and one-way traffic ensued before Real took the lead that was to earn them victory.
Kaka took up possession on the right flank and whipped in a cross that Tono could only flap at, Real centre-half Ezequiel Garay headed the loose ball across goal for Higuain to tuck away neatly on the volley from six yards with only a quarter of the game passed.
Pellegrini’s side continued to dominate possession with Racing showing little ambition going forward and Benzema almost doubled their advantage on 28 minutes.
The young Frenchman latched onto Kaka’s measured pass inside the box but needed to stretch in order to poke the ball towards goal and Tono was quick to dash from his line and get the block in.
Racing were lucky to survive a penalty appeal five minutes later after Benzema raced to collect a quickly taken free-kick and appeared to be brought down by the last defender just yards from goal only to have his protests ignored by the referee.
Real were almost forced to pay for their failure to convert possession into goals shortly before half-time.
Racing striker Mohamed Tchite did well to out-muscle Pepe at the by-line inside the box and lay the ball off for Luis Garcia to strike at goal, but the diminutive Spaniard, whose career has rapidly nose-dived since his departure from Anfield, again failed to keep his effort down and blazed the ball high over the bar.
The frustration of the 75,000 crowd inside the Santiago Bernabeu grew as Real continued in untidy fashion until the break.
But the Los Blancos faithful thought their side had put the game out of sight on 55 minutes after Benzema found the back of the net.
Patient build-up play saw former Racing midfielder Esteban Granero send a ball in towards the near post from the right, Benzema darted ahead of the defender to flick the ball into the net and wheel away in celebration – only to see the goal chalked off by the assistant referee’s raised flag.
Tono pulled of a great save to keep his side in the game on 70 minutes after good pressure applied by Royston Drenthe saw the Dutchman steal the ball from Henrique and drive to the by-line before cutting the ball back for Higuain.
The newly-capped Argentine international struck the ball towards Tono’s near post but was denied by a brilliant save low down to the 29-year-old goalkeeper’s right.
Belief among the Racing players grew as the half progressed with the scoreline at 1-0 and they thought they had snatched a late equaliser on 77 minutes through impressive second-half substitute Sergio Canalas.
A clever backheel by Luis Garcia sent Canalas through on goal to complete a cool finish but the 18-year-old was denied a dream goal by another raised flag and, on this occasion, an unjust one.
Alexandre Geijo was standing in an offside position when Luis Garcia played the ball but was not interfering in play. Canalas was at least two yards onside.
That was as close as Racing were to come to drawing the scores level and Real gained a vital win to apply pressure on Barcelona, who now require a win against Athletic to regain their position at the summit of La Liga.
Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Garay, Pepe, Marcelo, Alonso, Granero (Diarra, 86), Kaka (Van der Vaart, 88), Drenthe, Higuain, Benzema (Raul, 61)
Racing Santander: Tono, Pinillos (Henrique, 60), Morris, Torreson, Christian, Colsa, Lacen, Munitis, Luis Garcia, Serrano (Canalas, 61), Tchite (Geijo, 69)
Man of the Match: Royston Drenthe – An all-action display. Full of enterprise down the left flank and wasn’t afraid to dive in to regain possession for his side.