Real Madrid are up to fifth in the La Liga table after a 2-0 win at home to Valencia, which seemed likely to be straightforward when they went ahead early through visiting defender Daniel Wass' own goal, but was only sealed late on when Lucas Vazquez found the net on the break.
The first half was the best 45 minutes of Santi Solari's time in charge, with lots of energy and ambition in Madrid's play. The second half was not nearly as impressive, but the Argentine continues to benefit from good fortune and his team were able to kill the game on the break late on.
Madrid's complete dominance of the first half only yielded one goal, and that from a Valencia player. And Los Che had the better chances after the break, with the home midfield not quite able to control the game, and defence again creaking when under pressure.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Solari continues to show a mix of common sense and bravery with his selection calls, and his trust in some of the squad's younger players is paying off. The team still looks well short of its best structure and form though.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- A bystander in the first half, then mostly watched Valencia's forwards miss chances after the break. But when needed came up with a superb close range stop when it seemed certain substitute Michy Batshuayi was set to equalise late on.
DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- Impressive strength and guile to force and then trick his way past two defenders along the goal-line for the cross which Wass headed to his own net on just eight minutes. Aggression and concentration also fundamental at the back. Was badly missed when out injured.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- Slowly coming back to form and easily dealt with his sometime France international colleague Kevin Gameiro. A few misplaced passes a reminder that there's still a way to go though.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- Struggled to keep tabs on Valencia's most inform attacker Santi Mina, who twice got in behind but was unable to finish.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 7 -- With Marcelo out with a knock, Reguilon, 21, again showed athleticism and ambition in attack, although struggled more in defence when Valencia came into it second half
MF Dani Ceballos, 7 -- Replaced the injured Toni Kroos and brought much needed energy to midfield -- especially evident in pressing to regularly win ball back in Valencia half, although not as prominent when his team needed him past half-time and eventually replaced.
MF Marcos Llorente, 7 -- Another assured performance in the holding midfield role, using the ball simply but intelligently, and driving forward usefully on occasion. Got away with a risky push on Mina in area at 1-0 though.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Last game before Modric receives the 2018 Ballon D'Or (probably). It was his best 70 minutes of the season, maybe helped by having younger legs alongside him.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 -- Solari and the Bernabeu fans value his workrate and tactical awareness on the wing, and two goals in two games now after he again popped up to finish a move from close range
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- New Bernabeu favourite was loudly cheered on three occasions for working back to own half to regain possession -- came close to goal of month contenders with a flashing volley and curling 20 yarder in first half. Also laid on the Lucas Vaquez goal which clinched the points.
FW Gareth Bale, 6 -- A few dangerous driving runs on the ball, and brought top save from Valencia goalkeeper Neto at near post in first half. But no goal in 10 La Liga games now and whistled when substituted with 25 mins remaining with an apparent thigh injury.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 -- Still not clicking for him this season, should have made it 2-0 when set up by Llorente, but hit defender on the line.
MF Fede Valverde, 7 -- Surprisingly sprung to replace Modric with 20 minutes remaining, the Uruguayan 20 year old showed why with some nice touches and long-limbed strides forward.
FW Isco, N/R -- Back from the cold for the last nine minutes of normal time, and helped keep ball and run down clock at 2-0 up.