Benzema, left, scores the winner for Madrid against Rayo Vallecano
Frenchman Karim Benzema shot Real Madrid to within two points of joint La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid with the winning goal in a scrappy 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano at Santiago Bernabeu.
Earlier, Antoine Griezmann fired a brace in a 3-2 win over Real Valladolid to take Atletico Madrid level with Barca.
Benzema’s 13th-minute strike was enough for Real to move up to third on 29 points, two behind Barca, who travel to Levante on Sunday evening, and second-placed Atleti. Sevilla have the chance to move back above Real and level with the leading pair when they host mid-table Girona early on Sunday.
However they were made to sweat for the victory points by plucky Rayo, who are second-from-bottom but would have snatched a point in stoppage time had Sergio Ramos not cleared the second of Thibaut Courtois’ double saves, from Alex Alegria and Emiliano Velazquez, off the line.
“That’s football,” said relieved Madrid coach Santiago Solari.
“That’s why it’s such a beautiful game. When you’re not playing great, when nothing’s going right, you have to be prepared to suffer.”
Little was seen from Real stars such as Luka Modric, who was presented with his Ballon d’Or ahead of the match at the Santiago Bernabeu, and fans showed their displeasure at the end of an uninspiring contest.
“In the second half we could have added to our score, Marco (Asensio) had a clear chance and we didn’t see anything from them until their chance at the end,” added Solari.
“We didn’t give much away to Rayo and we created quite a few chances. With all respect to Rayo, who are a great side, I think we should have scored more.”
Earlier, Griezmann struck the winner for Diego Simeone’s Atleti 10 minutes from the end after Valladolid had fought back from a two goal half-time deficit.
The Frenchman had played a key role in building the early lead. The World Cup winner laid on Nikola Kalinic’s second goal of the season in the 26th minute with a superb through ball, then put his side two up on the stroke of half-time.
After Kiko Olivas handled Griezmann’s long-range shot, and referee Undiano Mallenco pointed to the spot after a video review, the Frenchman slotted home a neat penalty .
The hosts came roaring back in the second half, twice forcing fine saves from Jan Oblak before Fernando Calero scored for the hosts from a 56th-minute corner.
Saul Niguez then inadvertently pushed Enes Unal’s header into his own net nine minutes later, and Valladolid pushed for victory.
However Griezmann stole the three points in a frantic finale, cooly steering home the winner after a scramble in the box following a corner.