Celta Vigo 1 Real Madrid 3: Benitez's men win controversial thriller
Real Madrid moved three points clear at the top of La Liga by winning an entertaining and controversial clash 3-1 at 10-man Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave the visitors an early lead with an accurate finish, before Danilo made it two midway through the first half, scoring his first goal for the club.
Keylor Navas made a string of stunning saves throughout the opening period to preserve his side's advantage, but the game looked to be over as a contest after the break when Gustavo Cabral received a controversial second yellow card for dissent.
Celta were not giving up though and former Barcelona man Nolito gave them hope by scoring with an excellent strike in the final minutes, but Rafael Benitez's men wrapped up the victory when Marcelo slotted home in stoppage time.
Madrid's victory in a classic encounter means they move three points clear of Celta and Barcelona – who play Eibar on Sunday – at the top of the table.
Benitez named a team still shorn of the injured Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez, but the league leaders were able to make the breakthrough after just eight minutes.
Ronaldo linked up with Lucas Vazquez, who sent a return pass across the face of goal that Jonny could not cut out, and the Portugal international directed an accurate shot in off Sergio Alvarez's near post.
Fabian Orellana then had two excellent attempts to equalise but was thwarted by Navas on each occasion.
First, Orellana's looping header was clawed out of the air by Navas, before the winger struck a left-footed half volley which the ex-Levante keeper tipped wide brilliantly after diving to his right.
Those saves proved even more important as Madrid doubled their lead on 23 minutes. Jese turned well 20 yards from goal and slipped a pass to the onrushing Danilo in oceans of space on the right and the full-back sent a confident finish high past Sergio.
Navas had to be alert to get down and push away a long-range drive from Jonny and then comfortably dealt with a Daniel Wass free-kick.
Celta were having plenty of the game despite the scoreline and Navas was forced into another superb save. Brilliant play from Nolito down the left saw him cruise past Danilo and find Iago Aspas. The ex-Liverpool striker was able to control and get away a bouncing shot, but was denied by a two-handed stop from the Costa Rica international.
Navas was at it again shortly before half-time, leaping to his left to make a great save after Pablo Hernandez had got up to head Nolito's in-swinging free-kick towards the far corner.
Orellana shot just wide early in the second half, while Vazquez chipped tamely at Sergio after finding himself in significant space inside the Celta box.
Ronaldo was just off-target with a low effort, before the lively Orellana miscued a decent chance well over the bar after Nolito again provided the final pass.
But Celta's chances of a comeback appeared to be over after a moment of huge controversy on 57 minutes. Hernandez foolishly tugged back Sergio Ramos and the defender motioned towards referee Carlos Clos Gomez to produce a yellow card, which he duly did.
Cabral – who had already been booked for a first-half foul on Marcelo – led the complaints and was immediately shown a second booking, infuriating the hosts. The defender took over a minute to leave the pitch and two other players were booked for their complaints.
Ronaldo forced Sergio into two saves and Casemiro saw a flicked effort deflected just over as Madrid took advantage of their extra man. Moments later, substitute Isco almost made it three with an excellent run and long-range shot, which Sergio diverted onto the crossbar with a fingertip stop.
Celta were not giving in, though, with Nolito having a shot hacked off the goal-line by Marcelo after he forced his way past Ramos and Denis Cheryshev in a crowded box.
Nolito was to find the target with five minutes left when he cut inside from the left after receiving a pass from Carles Planas and unleashed a stunning shot which dipped under the crossbar and into the top corner.
The home side almost went on to score a sensational equaliser, but substitute John Guidetti missed after turning past Ramos to shoot left-footed inside the penalty area.
Ronaldo should have wrapped up the victory when he showed great pace to race clear on goal as Celta piled men forward deep into stoppage time, but Sergio stood tall as he attempted to chip over the keeper.
A third goal was to come, though, to settle what will surely go down as one of the games of the season. Cheryshev chipped to the far post and found Marcelo, who beat Sergio at his near post in the sixth minute of added time as Celta's fans applauded their players' brave effort right through to the final whistle.