10:00 AM ET
Alex KirklandESPN FC
Vinicius Junior scored twice as Real Madrid won 2-1 at Elche on Saturday to return to the top of the LaLiga table.
Rodrygo Goes was forced off injured and Thibaut Courtois denied Elche forward Lucas Boye before Vinicius opened the scoring with a low, left-footed effort after Mariano Diaz’s backheel. Mariano went close to doubling Madrid’s lead himself moments later, while Elche improved, with chances for Boye and Lucas Perez before half-time.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men after an hour when midfielder Raul Guti received a second yellow card, and then Vinicius grabbed his second with a clinical finish from Luka Modric’s pass. Substitute Pere Milla pulled a goal back for Elche with five minutes left, but Madrid held on for the three points.
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Vinicius’ outstanding start to the season continues. It’s now seven goals in LaLiga and nine in all competitions for the most improved player not just in Spain, but probably in all of Europe in 2021-22. It just shows what an important role confidence plays for young forwards: where the Brazilian was once wayward and hesitant in front of goal, he’s now finishing with unerring consistency.
Mariano Diaz would have left Real Madrid last summer — and the summer before that — if he had accepted deals that were in place to see him move on. Instead he chose to stay, accepting a peripheral role. His start here ahead of Luka Jovic was a shock, but to his credit, the 28-year-old responded. Madrid could really do with a viable alternative to Karim Benzema. It remains to be seen if this was a one-off display, or a sign of things to come.
Real Madrid struggled after opening the scoring, with Elche matching them — and arguably creating the better chances — before the break. There was a lack of control from Madrid that you don’t expect to see when Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Modric are in the team. There was also a carelessness to conceding 10-man Elche’s late consolation goal, too, when the game really should have been put to bed.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — Carlo Ancelotti made five changes to the team that drew 0-0 with Osasuna in midweek. His biggest call was picking Mariano instead of Luka Jovic with Karim Benzema rested, while Marcelo replacing Ferland Mendy was also a surprise.
Rodrygo’s injury saw Ancelotti call on Marco Asensio as his first substitute, and he switched both full-backs later, before introducing Eden Hazard and Eduardo Camavinga late on. Credit to Ancelotti for making some brave decisions here, which paid off with an important, hard-fought win away from home.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Was kept busy, especially in the first half. Did really well to save from Boye.
DF Lucas Vazquez, 6 — Ancelotti seems to be warming to him at right-back after some doubts earlier in the season.
DF David Alaba, 7 — Reliably important again at the back, both in and out of possession.
DF Eder Militao, 8 — Has impressed this week. More signs here that the partnership with Alaba could be here to stay.
DF Marcelo, 6 — His first start of the season, and did fine before being replaced by Mendy.
MF Casemiro, 6 — Not quite at his best, which maybe contributed to Elche looking more dangerous than they should have.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Influential in midfield, Kroos is getting close to his best now he’s fully fit.
MF Luka Modric, 8 — Showed no signs of knock that saw him left out as a precaution in midweek. Had an assist for Vinicius’ second goal.
Once again, it was Brazilian winger Vinicius who impressed. JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images
FW Vinicius Junior, 9 — More clinical finishing saw him pick up his sixth and seventh league goals of the season. The key man for Madrid with Benzema missing.
FW Rodrygo Goes, 6 — Busy before going off injured.
FW Mariano Diaz, 8 — Out of the wilderness to impress in his first start since April. A fantastic touch to create the opening goal for Vinicius, and could have scored himself not long afterwards. Kept threatening until the end.
FW Marco Asensio, 7 — Played most of the game after Rodrygo’s early injury. Needs to keep working hard to win a place in the team.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 — On for Vazquez to give the team fresh legs on the right.
DF Ferland Mendy, 6 — Replaced Marcelo for the latter stages.
FW Eden Hazard, NR — Had 10 minutes to impress, and did very little again.
MF Eduardo Camavinga, NR — Didn’t have much time to make an impact. One nice pass for Mariano.