Real Madrid made the most of Atletico Madrid’s surprise defeat to Levante to close the gap at the top of La Liga to just three points with a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid.
Mariano Diaz was handed a rare start for the defending Spanish champions with Karim Benzema sidelined through injury and Real Madrid struggled for cutting edge throughout the match.
Former Manchester United full back Saidy Janko should have opened the scoring for the hosts in the first half, but had a shot saved by Thibaut Courtois before Mariano had two goals disallowed for offside.
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Real Valladolid's Swiss defender Saidy Jano (R) kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and Real Madrid CF at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on February 20, 2021

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Courtois was called upon again to bail out his teammates after Ferland Mendy crossed a ball into his own penalty area. Fabian Orellana met it on the full volley, but couldn’t beat the Real Madrid number one.
The breakthrough finally came after 65 minutes when Casemiro met a Toni Kroos freekick delivery into the box. Having spurned two good opportunities already, the Brazilian wasn’t about to pass up a third.
Victory for Zinedine Zidane’s side breathes new life into the title race at the top of La Liga, with Atletico Madrid’s stuttering form opening the door for both Barcelona and Real Madrid to mount a late challenge.

TALKING POINT - Casemiro once again comes up with a big goal for Real Madrid

By trade, Casemiro is a defensive-minded player. The Brazilian has earned himself a reputation as one of the best central anchors in the European game, but the last two seasons have seen him sharpen his finishing instincts in front of goal. Casemiro started this match as the leading scorer on the pitch and he backed up that standing with another important goal for his team. He has a habit of doing that.

Casemiro of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during the La Liga Santander match between Real Valladolid CF and Real Madrid at Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla on February 20, 2021 in Valladolid, Spain.

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MAN OF THE MATCH - Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)

While Casemiro delivered the match-winning moment for Real Madrid, Courtois kept his team in the game long enough for that goal to secure three points. The Belgian made a series of important stops to stop Real Valladolid from finding the back of the net. One stop in particular from Orellana bailed out Mendy after a mindless ball into his own penalty box. This was just another demonstration of how important Courtois is to this Real Madrid side.

Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid does passed during the La Liga Santander match between Real Valladolid CF and Real Madrid at Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla on February 20, 2021 in Valladolid, Spain

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PLAYER RATINGS

Real Valladolid - Masip 5, Perez 5, Joaquin 5, Bruno 5, Nacho 4, Alcaraz 5, Roque Mesa 5, Orellana 5, Kike 5, Janko 4, Guardiola 4. Subs - Weissman 4, Kodro 4, Jota 4, Plano 3, San Emeterio 3.
Real Madrid - Courtois 8, Vazquez 7, Nacho 6, Varane 6, Mendy 4, Kroos 7, Casemiro 8, Modric 7, Asensio 5, Mariano 5, Vinicius 6. Subs - Isco 4, Duro 5, Arribas 6.

KEY MOMENTS

7’ He should have scored! Real Madrid were sloppy at the back and gave up the ball inside their own half. Courtois made the first save from Orellana and then got up to save from Janko when he should have found the back of the net!
24’ GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... NO! Mariano has the ball in the back of the net, but the Real Madrid striker was offside and the flag goes up when the chance is over.
28’ GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... NO! Mariano has the ball in the back of the net for a second time and it's disallowed for a second time! The striker was again just offside when the pass was made.
56’ Mendy gets away with one! What was the Real Madrid full back thinking? He essentially played a cross into his own box, Orellana got on the end of it, but Courtois makes the close range stop!
65’ GOAL! Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid: Real Madrid have the lead and it's Casemiro who puts the ball in the back of the net! Kroos' freekick delivery into the Real Valladolid penalty area was a dangerous one and the Brazilian midfielder was on hand to head home!

KEY STATS

Mariano Diaz touched the ball just 18 times in the 65 minutes he spent on the pitch (Thibaut Courtois made 24 touches in the same time)
Casemiro has scored four headed goals in La Liga this season, more than any other midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues.
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