Real Sociedad 0-1 Real Madrid: Gareth Bale late header gives Real crucial win in title race
By James Kilpatrick
Last Updated: 03/05/16 12:20pm
An 80th-minute header from Gareth Bale kept Real Madrid in the title race as they beat Real Sociedad 1-0.
After missing a handful of good chances, the Wales international was able to secure a crucial three points for Zinedine Zidane's side in a tight affair at the Anoeta Stadium.
The win for Real Madrid is their 10th in a row in the league and puts them two points clear at the top of La Liga, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona to play later on Saturday evening.
The three points will give Real Madrid great confidence going into their Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City on Wednesday night, where the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are set to feature.
Lucas Vazquez and 19-year-old striker Borja Mayoral came in for Benzema and Ronaldo on Saturday, while Pepe and Marcelo were on the bench and Toni Kroos was left in Madrid.
In a game Real Madrid needed to win without two of their star-powered front three, they started more dangerously. The first signs of warning came from Bale in the fourth minute, as he broke free down the right and had a shot which skidded just wide of the left-post.
Minutes later James Rodriguez, who came in for Toni Kroos, had a shot which hit the body of Sociedad's goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, almost catching Real Madrid out.
The resulting corner was met by Sergio Ramos but his glanced header was only just off-target. And as Madrid continued to apply the pressure, Bale also met a corner which he headed just wide before winning another aerial dual in the 21st minute which had the same outcome.
Sociedad were able to grow into the game but struggled to make any clear chances, playing in two dangerous crosses in the box which were nervously cleared by Madrid's backline.
The best chance of the half came to Nacho. The young Spanish full-back, and Marcelo's replacement, surged into the box and struck a fierce effort which Rulli was able to parry away before Bale was booked for charging into Gorka Elustondo who hoofed the ball away.
With the referee set to blow his whistle for half-time, Real Sociedad had their biggest opportunity of the match as the experienced Xabi Prieto played a lovely pass to Joseba Zaldua in space on the right, but he smashed his first-time shot high and wide.
The second half began with Bale winning another header at the near post which went over the bar and it looked like everything was going against him.
Then, 10 minutes later, a cross from James Rodriguez missed everyone and Sociedad defender Yuri Berchiche sloppily cleared the ball right into the path of Bale who, from just three yards out, hit his shot straight into Rulli.
The next clear chance for either side did not arrive until the 73rd minute when Luka Modric dribbled around four players and passed the ball to substitute Jese, who was lively when he came on, and his cross almost deflected into the goal but Rulli was just about able to punch clear.
And with Madrid continually pushing more men forward, a cross from the right by Vazquez was powerfully headed in by Bale, who rose above Elustondo, at the near post. The relief was clear on Madrid's bench as well as Bale's face as he wheeled off to celebrate scoring his 21st goal of the season.
In the final 10 minutes, Real Sociedad pushed for an equaliser but struggled to create any clear-cut chances as Real saw out the game to secure a vital win.