Madrid win to end year with narrow LaLiga lead

A stoppage time header by full-back Lucas Vazquez earned 10-man Real Madrid a 1-0 victory at lowly Alaves in LaLiga on Thursday, with defender Nacho handed his marching orders following a sliding tackle.

The win left Real Madrid on top of the standings on goal difference, level on 45 points with surprise package Girona, who were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Betis earlier on Thursday. Barcelona are third on 38 points.

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A toothless Real Madrid failed to create almost any opportunities as they looked to be heading towards a dull goalless draw.

But after losing Nacho to a straight red in the 54th minute, Madrid started to show signs of life and finally scored when Toni Kroos lifted a corner to Vazquez to head home from the crowded box.

Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo, the leaders of Madrid's attack this season, were kept in check during most of the match in a lackluster performance by Carlo Ancelotti's team at Mendizorroza Stadium. Neither team was able to create many significant scoring chances.

Real Madrid players celebrate after beating Alaves in LaLiga.

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"I think we deserved to win in the end," Ancelotti said after the match. "Lucas Vazquez, they're two games he's got into the box. He scored today and got an assist against Villarreal. He's little, but he's dangerous. We're very happy with tonight, it was a difficult night, and thanks to the huge commitment of the team we've won."

After Nacho was sent off, Ancelotti was forced to replace Luka Modric with midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, who went into Nacho's position in the middle of the defense.

Madrid has been playing with a squad depleted by injuries, especially in defense. Last Sunday, David Alaba became the third Madrid player to tear an anterior cruciate knee ligament. Éder Militão and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also sustained the same type of injury.

Antonio Rüdiger started alongside Nacho in defense on Thursday and Rodrygo had to be helped off the field with another injury in stoppage time. Ancelotti said the Brazil international was just tired after playing with 10 men for much of the second half.

"Because it was a difficult game, with 10 men, everyone was thinking it could be the day we slipped up," Ancelotti said of his team's celebrations at the final whistle. "But this team has energy, we hung on, we played well with 10 men, defended well and we got our prize."

Madrid has conceded only 11 goals so far this season, the best mark among all Spanish league clubs, while Alaves -- sitting in 16th place and three points clear from the relegation zone -- lost their third-straight match.

Madrid's next league game is at home against Mallorca on Jan. 3. Alaves visits Real Sociedad on Jan. 2.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this story.


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