Madrid: Santiago Solari tasted victory in his first La Liga match in charge of Real Madrid but he had 18-year-old Vinicius Junior to thank for their 2-0 win over Real Valladolid on Saturday.
Solari threw Vinicius on with the score goalless and tension building at the Santiago Bernabeu but the striker delivered, before Sergio Ramos’ late penalty gave the scoreline a deceptively comfortable look.
Madrid’s day might have been even better had Rayo Vallecano seen out the 2-1 lead they enjoyed over Barcelona with four minutes left at Vallecas.
Instead, Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez scored for Barca in the 87th and 89th minutes to pull off a remarkable comeback.
It means Ernesto Valverde’s side sit four points clear at the top of La Liga, seven ahead of Real and now four up on Atletico Madrid, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Leganes.
For Real and Solari, victory was all-important. Their opener in the 83rd minute was an own-goal, deflected off Kiko Olivas, but prompted by Vinicius’ weaving run and shot, the kind of exuberance Madrid’s toothless attack has been so bereft of in recent weeks.
Vinicius celebrated by running over to the bench and hugging Solari. He knows the youngster better than anyone at the club, having managed him with Castilla this season.
Previous coach Julen Lopetegui had, understandably, decided Madrid’s B team was the best place for Vinicius to settle but with every chance missed, the youngster’s reputation has swelled.
The 40 million-euro signing from Flamengo started as Madrid thrashed Melilla in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday but those were opponents from the Spanish third tier. This was Solari’s first proper test.
Madrid, however, head into Wednesday’s Champions League game against Viktoria Plzen with their first win in six league games, as well as their own confidence boosted and their coach’s momentum enhanced.
“This is an experienced group, not a bunch of kids,” Solari said. “They have found themselves too.”
Madrid might have held little hope of reducing the gap on Barcelona this weekend but Rayo Vallecano came within a whisker of doing them a favour.
Jose Angel Pozo cancelled out Luis Suarez’s opener with a bending shot inside the post and then Alvaro Garcia put the home side ahead, tapping in from a yard within a minute of coming on as a substitute.
Earlier, Antoine Griezmann scored a sumptuous free-kick but Atletico Madrid missed the chance to go top after drawing 1-1 at struggling Leganes.