Madrid, Dec 23 (efe-epa).- It wasn’t pretty, but Real Madrid prevailed 2-0 here Wednesday against Granada to go level on points with first-place Atletico Madrid as LaLiga enters the Christmas break.
While the defending champion Blancos and their cross-town rivals are both on 32 points, the Colchoneros have a better goal difference as well as two games in hand.
With the exception of starting Fede Valverde in place of the injured Luka Modric, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane stuck with essentially the same lineup he picked for the four previous matches and the hosts showed signs of suffering from tired legs.
And the visitors’ approach highlighted the problem, deploying a high press that made it difficult for the Blancos to play out from the back, especially in the absence of Modric.
Inside the first 30 seconds, Granada’s Robert Kenedy forced Raphael Varane into a giveaway that put the ball of the feet of an unmarked Antonio Puertas only for the forward to fire over the cross-bar.
Karim Benzema reacted for Madrid, but defender Jesus Vallejo deflected the strike away from goal and the home side’s only other opportunity of the first half was an effort from distance by Toni Kroos that didn’t miss by much.
Zidane faced another challenge in the 37th minute when 19-year-old winger Rodrygo left the field on a stretcher.
To replace the Brazilian international, he turned to Marco Asensio, who has enjoyed little playing time since returning from the serious knee injury that cut him down last season as he was carving out an important role for himself with the team.
The Frenchman’s choice turned out to be inspired.
Asensio hit the post 10 minutes into the second half, just before Valverde and Kroos forced stops from Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Two minutes later, Asensio’s cross found Casemiro at the far post and the Brazilian headed home to give Real Madrid the lead.
Apart from some nervous moments when VAR scrutinized a possible Casemiro hand ball on a shot by Puertas, the rest of the match was comfortable for the Blancos.
Benzema scored in the 93rd minute to cap off a fifth straight victory for Real Madrid. EFE
Granada remain in the seventh spot with 21 points, 1 more than Celta, who had to settle Wednesday for a 1-1 draw with Getafe, who halted the Vigo squad’s winning streak under new coach Eduardo Coudet at four.
The decision by Getafe coach Jose Bordalas to go with a 4-5-1 formation to disrupt the Celta attack worked as intended.
Unable to play their preferred game, the visitors coughed up a goal in the 7th minute, as Damian Suarez gathered a loose ball and nutmegged Denis Suarez before beating keeper Ruben Blanco with a blast into the right corner.
Celta, who had gone 352 minutes without conceding a goal, responded and Iago Aspas equalized from the penalty spot in the 17th minute after Damian Suarez fouled Lucas Olaza in the box.
The Vigo club had the edge on possession and Getafe had a brief burst of creativity when Bordalas made a triple-substitution as the match clock approached the hour mark, but neither could achieve the breakthrough needed to win.
The result leaves Getafe in the 12th spot with 17 points.
In Wednesday’s other action, Real Betis blanked Cadiz 1-0 on Guido Rodriguez’s goal in the 71st minute to climb to ninth place with 19 points.