Updated December 22nd, 2023 at 07:00 IST

Stoppage-time goal puts Real Madrid back in Spanish league lead after Girona is held by Real Betis

Lucas Vázquez has scored with a header in stoppage-time to put Real Madrid back at the top in the Spanish league.

Real Madrid players celebrate their victory at the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Alaves and Real Madrid at the Mendizorroza stadium | Image: AP
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With a late goal after a lackluster performance, Real Madrid found its way to victory and to the top of the Spanish league standings.

Lucas Vázquez scored with a header in stoppage-time and Madrid pulled off a 1-0 win on the road against Alaves to reclaim first place after Girona conceded a late equalizer in its 1-1 draw at Real Betis earlier on Thursday.

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Madrid and Girona are tied on 45 points but Madrid was ahead on a tiebreaker. Defending champion Barcelona was third, seven points off the lead. The Catalan club edged last-place Almeria 3-2 at home on Wednesday.

Madrid got the late win despite playing with 10 men from the 54th minute after central defender Nacho Fernández was sent off with a straight red card for a hard foul.

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“It was a complicated match, and with a player down everybody thought that maybe today we were going to lose,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “But this team finds energy out of nowhere. We held tough and in the end we got rewarded.”

Vázquez was left free inside the area to score the winner with a header after a well-placed corner-kick cross by Toni Kroos.

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Alaves coach Luis García was livid by the bench after the goal, kicking objects, throwing his jacket, screaming and even grabbing a staff member by the jacket and shoving him back to his seat.

“We can’t let Lucas finish by himself like that,” he said afterward. “You can’t let the game slip away from you like that, against 10 men, in the final minutes.”

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Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo, the leaders of Madrid’s attack this season, were kept in check during most of the match in a poor performance by Ancelotti’s team at Mendizorroza Stadium. Neither team was able to create many significant scoring chances.

Nacho was initially shown a yellow card after stepping on an opponent while going for the ball, but video review called the referee and it was determined the Madrid defender deserved a straight red card.

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After Nacho was sent off, Ancelotti was forced to replace Luka Modric with midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, who went into Nacho’s position in the middle of the defense.

Madrid has been playing with a squad depleted by injuries, especially in defense. Last Sunday, David Alaba became the third Madrid player to tear an anterior cruciate knee ligament. Éder Militão and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also sustained the same type of injury.

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Antonio Rüdiger started alongside Nacho in defense on Thursday.

Forward Rodrygo had to be helped off the field with another apparent injury in stoppage time, though Ancelotti later said the Brazil forward was just tired.

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Madrid has conceded only 11 goals so far this season, the best mark among all Spanish league clubs. It is unbeaten in its last 17 games in all competitions.

It was the third loss in a row for Alaves, which is sitting in 16th place, three points clear from the relegation zone.

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Madrid’s next league game is at home against Mallorca on Jan. 3. Alaves visits Real Sociedad on Jan. 2.

GIRONA’S SETBACK

Girona opened the scoring with a penalty kick converted by Artem Dovbyk in the 39th, but the hosts equalized with Germán Pezzella in the 88th after a loose ball inside the area.

It was only the second time Girona failed to win in its last 12 matches in all competitions. It had won eight of its last nine league matches, including 4-2 at Barcelona two rounds ago. A 3-0 loss to Madrid at home in September is the team’s lone defeat so far this season.

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It faced another tough test against a Betis team that is fighting for European places and is yet to lose at home in the league.

“This goal in the end is very upsetting, we thought we had it won,” Girona captain Aleix García said. “But we have to value this point, they pressure a lot here. We have to maintain this dynamic and recharge our batteries for what’s ahead.”

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Girona’s next league match is another difficult one, against fourth-place Atletico Madrid at home on Jan. 3.

SOCIEDAD HELD

Sixth-place Sociedad couldn’t manage more than a 0-0 draw at relegation-threatened Cadiz.

The hosts sit in 17th place, just outside the demotion zone, and haven’t won in 16 consecutive matches in all competitions.

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Sociedad is now winless in three straight games.

MALLORCA RALLIES

Mallorca came from behind to defeat Osasuna 3-1 at home.

It was the second win in the last three league matches for Mallorca, which moved to 14th place.

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Osasuna, sitting in 13th place, has won only one of its last eight league games — 1-0 against Rayo Vallecano in the previous round.

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Published December 22nd, 2023 at 07:00 IST