Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro made amends for missing two free headers by finally nodding in the only goal as his side earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory away to Real Valladolid on Saturday to move within three points of La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
The Brazilian had missed the target in either half but seized the moment with his third headed opportunity, glancing in a Toni Kroos free kick to give his heavily depleted side the lead in the 65th minute of a cagey game.
The champions were without top scorer Karim Benzema and an additional eight players due to injury but did just enough to notch a fourth consecutive victory and take full advantage of Atletico’s 2-0 defeat at home by Levante earlier on Saturday.
Real remain in second but moved on to 52 points after 24 games, with Atletico leading the standings on 55 with a game in hand. Barcelona, who play at home to Cadiz on Sunday, are third on 46 points. Valladolid, meanwhile, are 19th.
“You have to always be in the right area to have a shot and I had three chances and scored with the third. But credit should go to Toni, he always delivers good crosses and he practically put them in my hand,” said match winner Casemiro.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane added: “I’m delighted for the players, we came here with a lot of setbacks. Many factors combined against us in a difficult game and with all the players we were missing we had to really fight to win.”
Valladolid went into the game without a league win since Jan. 2 yet they made the brighter start and had two chances in an instant to take an early lead, but neither Fabian Orellana nor Saidy Janko were able to beat Real keeper Thibaut Courtois.
The struggling hosts had a faint penalty appeal in the first half waved away for a challenge by Casemiro on Kike Perez while forward Shon Weissman took a tumble from a Nacho tackle in the second half when his side were trailing the game.
However, the referee and VAR did not give a foul.
Casemiro’s wayward header from close range was Real’s only attempt of note in the first half while striker Mariano Diaz had two goals ruled out for offside.
The Brazilian missed again soon after the interval but Valladolid could have taken the lead when Real defender Ferland Mendy sent the ball to the feet of Orellana, but again the Chilean was unable to get his shot past Courtois.
“The win was down to the whole team,” added Casemiro.
“We know we’re all important. Courtois is an outstanding keeper but it’s not right to just talk about one player.”
Real turn their attention to the Champions League with a last-16 first leg away to Atalanta on Wednesday before hosting Real Sociedad on March 1. They then face a potential title showdown away to Atletico on March 7.