MADRID (AFP) – Sergio Ramos’ sensational free-kick helped Real Madrid move back above Barcelona to the top of La Liga as they defeated Real Mallorca 2-0 early yesterday.
Ramos brushed aside Gareth Bale to take the shot and justified his claim with a curling strike into the top corner after 19-year-old Vinicius Junior had put Madrid in front in the first half.
Madrid’s victory at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium means they are level again on points with Barcelona but sit above their title rivals in the table due to a superior head-to-head record.
“There are seven finals left,” said Ramos. “There will be only one league in the year of coronavirus and we want to win it for the fans.”
Bale has been hardly used since La Liga resumed on June 11 but Zinedine Zidane continued his rotation policy and handed the Welshman his first start since February 16.
Yet an underwhelming display is unlikely to push Bale back into Zidane’s preferred eleven as Vinicius enhanced his case with another lively, if erratic, performance.
The Brazilian also hit the crossbar in the first half.
Ramos, though, stole the show with his brilliant free-kick, taking his personal tally to a career-best eight goals for the season, after he became La Liga’s highest ever scoring defender last Sunday by scoring a penalty against Real Sociedad.
The only worry for Madrid was that Eden Hazard was taken off shortly after the hour, raising doubts over whether the Belgian is fully fit or completely confident in his troublesome ankle.
There was also time at the end for history to be made as Mallorca’s Luka Romero became the youngest player ever to play in La Liga, aged 15 years and 219 days.
Mallorca, who remain 18th in the table, always looked like one of Madrid’s more straight-forward assignments during the run-in, even if they claimed a stunning victory over them last October to put Zidane under serious pressure.
But his team have been transformed since then and after Barcelona made hard work of beating Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday night, this was another win to suggest the momentum is now with Madrid.
Bale tested Manolo Reina with an early shot from distance just after Karim Benzema was denied by Mallorca’s goalkeeper after being allowed to control at the back post.
Hazard freed Vinicius, who took too long over his shot, but if that was the worst of Vinicius’ finishing, the best was to come soon after.
Dani Carvajal barged over Dani Rodriguez, fairly in the eyes of the referee, and Fede Valverde swept a long ball forward to Luka Modric, who waited before playing a cute reverse ball to Vinicius.
Bale stepped aside, allowing the youngster to lift a superb finish over Reina and into the net.
Mallorca rallied with Takefusa Kubo, on loan from Madrid, particularly lively and Thibaut Courtois having to tip wide a bending effort from Iddrisu Baba.
But Madrid never really looked likely to concede and Vinicius should have had a second when played through by Benzema but scooped a shot onto the bar.
A second eventually arrived just before the hour as Hazard won a free-kick 25 yards out, slightly left of centre. Ramos claimed the shot and made it count, whipping a curling effort over the wall and into the top left-hand corner.
Hazard was taken off after 62 minutes, replaced by Toni Kroos, as Zidane began looking ahead to tougher tests to come. In the 83rd minute, Romero was given a debut to remember.