Madrid, Feb. 10 (IANS): Real Madrid climbed into second place in La Liga and gave themselves renewed hope of a title run with a 3-1 away victory over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in Matchday 23 action.
Santiago Solari’s men (45 points) now provisionally trail league-leading FC Barcelona by five points pending the Catalans’ match on Sunday against Athletic Bilbao, reports Efe news.
Two of the four goals required the confirmation of the video assistant referee (VAR) staff on Saturday, while what could have been the first goal by Atletico newcomer Alvaro Morata was disallowed for off-side.
Atletico came out aggressively in the opening minutes with a high press, but it was Real Madrid who drew first blood at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium shortly after the quarter-hour mark on their first scoring chance.
Defenders rose up on the play to prevent Spanish international Sergio Ramos from heading a corner kick by German midfielder Toni Kroos, but the ball then ricocheted softly to an unmarked Casemiro, who scored on a half-bicycle kick past Jan Oblak.
Nine minutes later, Atletico drew level on a counter-attack that Angel Correa set up and Antoine Griezmann finished off by firing a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Vinicius Junior claimed he was fouled earlier in the play by Correa. Real Madrid also protested that Griezmann was off-side before receiving the Argentine’s slide-rule pass, but VAR allowed the goal to stand.
The visitors reclaimed the lead for good though late in the first half after VAR confirmed that Uruguayan defender Jose Gimenez had brought down Vinicius inside the area and Sergio Ramos converted from the 12-yard mark.
The on-field referee also had signaled for a penalty, although the replay showed the foul may have occurred just outside the box.
Atletico were unable to get into their stride, with Morata (whose debut came in the club’s 1-0 loss last weekend to Real Betis) failing to score once again in his second appearance since joining on loan from Chelsea.
The Spaniard did make his presence felt though in the 54th minute when he nearly scored on a deft first touch and lobbed shot over Courtois, but VAR ruled him off-side.
Super-sub Gareth Bale then sealed the win when he scored on a left-footed shot just inside the far post in the 74th minute off a pass from Luka Modric, 17 minutes after the Welshman took the field as a replacement for Vinicius.
With the loss, Atletico has fallen to the third spot in La Liga with 44 points, one behind Real Madrid and six off Barca’s pace.