Isco involved in both goals, earns 9/10 in Real Madrid win over Malaga
Real Madrid moved past Valencia in the league after a 2-1 victory over Malaga on Sunday night, and third place is now theirs to lose. In a game that was lacking in intensity, Isco and Casemiro scored in either half to doom the home side to another defeat as they look destined for the drop.
Atletico Madrid are in their sights after this victory, and Los Blancos keep up their good form in La Liga. Zinedine Zidane got the chance to rest some of his players that needed rest and won regardless.
There tends to be a sense of complacency that leaks into Real Madrid's performances in the league of late. Bayern Munich in the semifinal of the Champions League is on everyone's minds, but they need to be careful not to let their performances drop. The absence of Gareth Bale was a strange one and the inability to keep a clean sheet against a very poor side will also irk Zidane.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Zidane rested many of his starters, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Bale, Marcelo and Raphael Varane. That meant Jesus Vallejo and Sergio Ramos got the chance to play alongside each other and get comfortable. Zidane reverted back to a 4-4-2, which was a smart move given his options. He only used two subs in a game that was perfect for rest and getting more fringe players minutes.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Saved Real Madrid at the end of the first half with a good one-on-one save. Confident despite his mistake midweek against Juventus. Brave in the air, too, even if he did almost knock out his own teammate, Vallejo, in a collision.
DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- As always, heavily involved in everything that happened on the right-hand side for Real Madrid. Solid defensively and always an option in attack.
DF Jesus Vallejo, 6 -- Recovered well for Ramos on a couple of occasions. Looked much more comfortable and involved than he did in his Champions League debut during the week. Dreadful mistake at the end that allowed Malaga to score a late equaliser as he seemed to fall over himself.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 -- Largely tasked with starting play and spreading the ball to teammates and was Real Madrid's most successful passer at 07.5 percent. A veteran's performance with the most blocks (2), clearances (6) and interceptions (3) on the team, too.
DF Theo Hernandez, 7 -- He is not getting the rub of the green in attack but always willing to take a chance up the left wing. Defensively still a little suspect and he was booked for a foul in the second half, but Real Madrid full-backs are rarely judged on their defending. Taking advantage of his time on the field recently and continues to improve.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Switched off and put Navas in a bind late in the first half as Malaga nearly equalised. He was having little impact but won the ball back in midfield before finishing the move for the second. Improved immeasurably after that point and was commanding as the game progressed.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 8 -- Pushed Isco for the title of Real Madrid's most proactive and dangerous midfielder. A similar sense of excitement when he's on the ball. Won the ball back more times than any other Real Madrid player and also had the most successful tackles, proving he is a versatile central midfielder.
MF Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Stretched Malaga's defence with runs in behind along with neat and precise delivery into the box. Put one on a plate for Benzema in the second half but had little success in terms of tangible results.
MF Marco Asensio, 6 -- Asensio has not figured out how to play against teams that sit deep. He'll have to learn how to influence games with limited space soon. Should have won a penalty in the second half but the referee was not in the giving mood. Hooked in the middle of the second half.
MF Isco, 9 -- Real Madrid's most dazzling player. Scored a sublime free kick and was generally a nuisance for Malaga's defence. He created two good chances in that first half, too. Taken off after a solid night's work on 72 minutes to a standing ovation.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 -- It's a struggle to watch Benzema in this form in front of goal. He got himself into good positions but failed time and time again to score with five efforts that were blocked or went wide. Lovely pass to Isco in the build-up for Real Madrid's second and his confidence improved after that.
MF Dani Ceballos, 5 -- Replaced Asensio on 66 minutes. Made no impact in a game that had already lost its vigour.
FW Borja Mayoral, N/R -- Isco made way for the striker on 72 minutes. He one shot that was very tame but had no influence in his cameo.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne