Real Madrid edge past Mallorca thanks to Antonio Rudiger’s late header

By Sports Desk January 03, 2024

Antonio Rudiger headed home a late winner as LaLiga leaders Real Madrid opened 2024 with a 1-0 victory over Mallorca at the Bernabeu.

Real edged in front when the centre-back connected with Luka Modric’s 78th-minute corner, having survived some scares with Mallorca hitting the woodwork via Antonio Sanchez and Samu Costa.

The hosts then did so themselves, substitute Brahim Diaz heading against a post when looking certain to score, before Rudiger showed greater accuracy to ensure they celebrated boss Carlo Ancelotti’s new contract with three points.

Real went three points clear of second-placed Girona ahead of them playing Atletico Madrid later on Wednesday.

Ancelotti – whose new deal to 2026 was announced on Friday – made four changes from the 1-0 victory at Alaves, which included bringing in Andriy Lunin in goal for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had been recovering from illness, and the fit-again Vinicius Junior in attack, for his first appearance since sustaining an injury on Brazil duty in November.

Lunin came out of his box early on to intercept a ball with a diving header before Cyle Larin could latch on to it, before Jude Bellingham saw a header at the other end caught by Predrag Rajkovic.

Vinicius Junior was then to the fore, shooting just wide after a delightful through ball from Modric, missing with another attempt and then hitting a piledriver from just outside the box that the diving Rajkovic did well to keep out.

Mallorca had offered little going forward, but almost grabbed a shock lead in the 42nd minute as Sanchez saw a header come down off the underside of the Real crossbar.

Javier Aguirre’s visitors threatened again in first-half stoppage time as Larin sent an effort bouncing wide, and after Toni Kroos curled a free-kick over early in the second half for Real, Mallorca were then once again denied by the goalframe, with Costa unleashing a shot from distance that struck the foot of a post.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Real then gathered some momentum again and in the 69th minute Rodrygo brought a parry out of Rajkovic and the loose ball came to Diaz, only for the former Manchester City man to head against the upright from close range.

The hosts then made the breakthrough nine minutes later as skipper Modric sent a corner into the area and Rudiger was there to power past Rajkovic.

Top-scorer Bellingham sent an effort off-target as Real sought to add to their lead in the closing stages.

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