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    Benzema Vinicius both 8 out of 10 as Real Madrid beat Real Sociedad and grab pole position in La Liga

    Goals from Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema sent Real Madrid to the top of La Liga — level on points with Barcelona but with the head-to-head tiebreaker — after a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad at Anoeta on Sunday.

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    A first half of few chances saw Vinicius Junior go closest to scoring, and the Brazilian teenager won a penalty after the break, confidently dispatched by Sergio Ramos for his seventh league goal of the season.

    Real Sociedad sub Adnan Januzaj had a strike ruled out for offside — the referee believing a teammate was interfering with Thibaut Courtois‘ vision — before Karim Benzema appeared to control the ball with his shoulder ahead of doubling Madrid’s lead. Mikel Merino pulled a goal back late on for the hosts, but it was not enough, as Madrid held on to all three points.

    Positives

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    Real Madrid’s squad depth, especially in forward areas, was always going to be key to their title push — highlighted by the fact that a record 20 players have scored for them in La Liga this season.

    Here it was Vinicius — who came off the bench in the previous two games — who impressed from the start, making a real impact for the first time since scoring in El Clasico in March. His dynamic, unpredictable running adds much-needed variety to Madrid’s attacking play.

    It’s now three wins out of three for Real Madrid since La Liga’s return. This one, while not the most convincing, might be the most satisfying, being a big test, away from home, against top-four contenders.

    Negatives

    Imanol Alguacil’s side have been a thorn in Madrid’s side in recent years — winning their most recent meeting, a 4-3 Copa del Rey thriller, at the Bernabeu in February — and here they once again caused Zinedine Zidane‘s team problems, especially late in the game.

    Madrid could have done without the scare Januzaj’s controversially disallowed goal gave them, as well as conceding late on. The knee injury to captain and talisman Sergio Ramos is a major concern, too.

    Manager rating out of 10

    6 — Zidane often surprises with his team selection, and this was no exception, with James Rodriguez making his first league start since October. Rodriguez, of Colombia, was one of three changes, with Marcelo and Vinicius also coming in, and largely disappointed in a subdued showing. Picking Vinicius was an inspired choice, however, and Zidane’s substitutions helped the team see out the game, too.

    Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

    GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 — Beaten cleanly from range by Januzaj — but was relieved to see the goal ruled out for offside. Had no chance on Merino’s rocket from close-range, and thus remains on 13 clean sheets for the season.

    DF Dani Carvajal, 7 — Some of Real Madrid’s best first-half play came down his right-hand side. Has started all three games this week with right-back alternative Nacho injured.

    DF Raphael Varane, 7 — Varane did well up against both the talented Alexander Isak and then the physical presence of Willian Jose, and led the defence when Ramos was forced off injured.

    DF Sergio Ramos, 7 — Scored the opening goal — his 20th consecutive successful penalty kick — with a stuttering run-up before sending Alex Remiro the wrong way. Hurt his knee in a collision with Isak shortly afterward and had to be taken off.

    DF Marcelo, 7 — Back in the team, replacing Ferland Mendy, and is in much better form than earlier this season. Had to cope with right-winger Portu, a real handful.

    MF Casemiro, 6 — Inhibited by an early yellow card, which means he’ll miss Wednesday’s home game with Mallorca through suspension. Under the circumstances, that’s as good a game as any to miss.

    MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Kroos wasn’t at his best against a ball-playing La Real midfield, but even on an off day, his passing is hugely important to the team.

    MF Federico Valverde, 7 — Caught the eye with some bright early running. Played more centrally than he had against Valencia and looked much more comfortable.

    MF James Rodriguez, 6 — Lacks confidence and sharpness. James’ last start came against the same opposition in the Copa del Rey, when he was substituted at half-time. He was a little better here.

    FW Vinicius Junior, 8 — Real Madrid’s most dangerous player by far. Put an early shot over the bar, tested Remiro later on and won the crucial penalty. Made a case for a starting role having been a second-half sub in the two previous games this week.

    FW Karim Benzema, 8 — Followed his goal-of-the-season contender against Valencia with another important strike here, his 17th of this season. The big question remains when Zidane will get the chance to rest him.

    Substitutes

    DF Eder Militao, 6 — Replaced an injured Ramos with half an hour to go as the team started to struggle.

    FW Mariano Diaz, N/R — Back from injury and got some late minutes.

    FW Marco Asensio, N/R — A quiet night after his goal and assist in midweek.

    MF Luka Modric, N/R — Introduced late on, to play his third game in a week at the age of 34.

    DF Ferland Mendy, N/R — Came on to shore up the defence.

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