An injury hit Real Madrid battled to a 2-1 victory at Real Betis in Sunday evening's La Liga clash -- with substitute Dani Ceballos' late free kick winning the three points, after Luka Modric's fine first-half strike was cancelled out by Sergio Canales' smart equaliser near the hour mark.
Madrid surprised everybody with a tactically and physically excellent first half performance which had them deservedly ahead at the break. Younger players such as Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior continue to reward faith from their former Castilla coach Santi Solari. Substitute Ceballos' match-winning strike was another reminder that Madrid's squad -- stretched at the moment -- remains full of quality.
Another game in which Madrid faded physically in the second half and lost a lead [although this time they won it back]. An injury to Karim Benzema removes maybe the team's most important player at the moment.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Solari's surprise tactical switch to three centre-backs was perhaps conditioned by so many injuries to his squad, but the gambit was key to Madrid's opening goal, and general domination of the first half. Given he was missing six players injured [before Benzema went off] sitting back to defend in the second half was understandable. Keeping Ceballos in reserve against his old club worked well in the end.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Wing-back position allowed Carvajal a lot of license to get forward -- and it was his shot blocked out to Modric for the opening goal.
DF Raphael Varane, 8 -- Showed excellent positioning and reading of the game, especially when Betis occasionally looked to get down the sides of Madrid's new look back three.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- Booked for two crunching first half tackles back in home city, and drawn way out of his holding position in the middle of the defence as ex-teammate Canales equalised.
DF Nacho Fernandez, 7 -- Looked mostly comfortable on left side of back three in first La Liga game in two months. Had a handball scare which the VAR ruled was not a penalty.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 6 -- Picked ahead of the finally dropped Marcelo, and enjoyed the freedom to get forward at wing-back. But looked unsure positionally in defence which may have been why Solari hooked him just after Betis' equaliser.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- His goal was a sweetly taken instinctive strike to top corner off his left foot, not the only time he got forward dangerously from midfield in first half. Second half suited him a lot less as Madrid's midfield chased and chased to try and get the ball back.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Looked closer to full fitness as he anchored a three man midfield. Seemed to find his old 'anti-booking invisibility cloak' again as avoided a yellow card despite persistent tactical fouling. Drove forward really well to win the free-kick Ceballos converted late on.
MF Fede Valverde, 7 -- 20 year old showed tremendous athleticism and confidence on first La Liga start - should really have had a first half goal but tried to be too clever after running half the pitch on the break. Found it more difficult after the break when Betis were fully on top.
FW Vinicius Jr, 7 -- Picked to start despite missing training yesterday due to the flu showed how important the 18 year old already is for Madrid. His first half was another showing full of maturity and intelligence, although he understandably faded in the second half.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 -- Was showing superb leadership from centre-forward as he moved intelligently and linked with those around him. Until he suffered a broken finger just before half-time.
FW Cristo Gonzalez, 6 -- 21-year-old Castilla striker made La Liga debut at halftime in place of Benzema and spent most of the time unsuccessfully chasing long balls as Betis dominated possession.
MF Dani Ceballos, 8 -- Will have been disappointed not to start against his former team, but looked very happy after netting the very clever free kick after coming from the bench.
MF Brahim Diaz, N/R -- New signing from Manchester City replaced Valverde with 10 minutes remaining, and looked sharp when linking with Carvajal.