Real Madrid began their biggest week of the season so far with a straightforward 3-0 league win over Alaves at the Bernabeu, the goals coming from Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz.
Benzema continued his hot streak with a fifth goal in seven days, while teenager Vinicius was again excellent and deserved his first La Liga goal: surely, his first of many. Fit-again Mariano also showed himself another option in attack. A fifth straight victory in all competitions is Madrid's best run of 2018-19 and comes at the perfect time, ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey semifinal first leg at Barcelona.
Gareth Bale still looks well short of match fitness before the midweek Copa Clasico and next Saturday's La Liga derbi at Atletico Madrid. A crowd of 53,132 was in keeping with recent attendances but is well below expected at 81,000 seater Bernabeu. Alaves' attackers regularly got into promising positions but lacked the quality to make it count.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Santi Solari pleased local fans and pundits by starting his new "BBV" frontline for the first time, with the Argentine managing all his attacking options very well at the moment. Given what is coming in the next few days it was understandable that the team's focus and intensity was not quite at full pitch.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Scariest moment of first half was dealing with overhit backpass from Odriozola, busier after break and quite fortunate when parrying a fierce Jony shot into a dangerous area at 1-0.
DF Alvaro Odriozola, 7 -- Capable job in deputising for suspended Dani Carvajal, denied a goal himself by an offside flag moments before he provided an excellent cross headed in by Mariano for 3-0.
DF Nacho Fernandez, 7 -- Struggled physically at times against Alaves' combative centre-forward Jonathan Calleri, as many do. But covered well across the ground when required.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 -- Also looked sharp and completely recovered from recent knee knock as he gelled a quite makeshift back four together with aplomb.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 8 -- Almost got his first senior goal with fierce 25-yarder with the score at 0-0, minutes before he laid on the opener for Benzema with a perfect cross after a fine run down the left. Now clearly ahead of Marcelo in the left-back pecking order.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- On front foot from the start and determined to drive Real forward, showed his class throughout with regular sweet touches to make space and time for himself and teammates.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Could have been booked for early flare-up with Alaves' firebrand Wakaso Mubarak, as he took the fight to the visitors' combative midfield three.
MF Dani Ceballos, 6 -- Again not as tidy as he'd like in possession, looking maybe too eager to impress in the place of the rested Toni Kroos.
FW Gareth Bale, 6 -- Looked short of match sharpness and most of Madrid's attacking went through teenager Vinicius on the other wing. His best and only moment was instant control and driven shot, which drew a excellent save from goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco early in second half.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 -- Fifth goal in a week was not his most spectacular lately but he showed poacher's instinct. Not as spectacular as recent games, but he received a deserved ovation when taken off with 15 minutes left.
FW Vinicius Jr, 8 -- The 18-year-old already looks a senior player, linking perfectly with teammates, such as when he played in Reguilon during the build-up to Real's opening goal. Showed composure and technique well beyond his years when taking his goal excellently late on.
MF Marco Asensio, 7 -- Replaced Bale near the hour mark as he also works his way back to full fitness, provided the driven cross that put Vinicius into space for the 2-0.
FW Mariano Diaz, NR -- First minutes since November when giving Benzema a rest late on, began with spectacular swing and miss and fall over when attempting a cross but recovered to bullet in late header to wrap up the scoring.
MF Isco, NR -- The Andalusian got his usual last few minutes as a substitute with the game already won.