VIGO (Reuters) – Real Madrid notched a fourth straight win under interim coach Santiago Solari by winning 4-2 at Celta Vigo on Sunday to move to within four points of La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Karim Benzema gave the European champions the lead in the 20th minute with an irresistible piece of control and finish after a pinpoint pass from Luka Modric.
The Frenchman was then instrumental in doubling the lead early in the second half, firing a shot which squirmed under goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez and over the line off Celta defender Gustavo Cabral.
Real’s lead was far from comfortable, though, and Hugo Mallo pulled the home side back into the game with a well-taken volley on the hour mark which preceded a spell of heavy pressure from Celta.
Madrid managed to ride it out and killed the game off as a contest with a late ‘Panenka’ penalty from captain Sergio Ramos and a thunderous strike from Dani Ceballos in stoppage time, although Brais Mendez struck a late consolation goal for Celta.
While Real have yet to make a marked improvement in overall performances under former midfielder Solari, they have enjoyed far better fortunes than in the final weeks under Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked two weeks ago after the humiliating 5-1 defeat to Barcelona.
That loss left Real seven points adrift of Barca but the win over Celta saw them climb to sixth on 20 points from 12 matches in a jam-packed La Liga table, closing the gap after the leaders were left on 24 points with their 4-3 home defeat by Real Betis.
The Spanish football federation’s regulations mean Solari will go from interim to permanent coach if Real do not appoint a long-term successor by the end of Monday, which would result in the Argentine being unable to resume duties as coach of their reserve side, Castilla.
Solari would not reveal whether he has been given any indication of what decision president Florentino Perez will take in the next 24 hours, however.
“The most important thing is to do whatever is necessary for the good of the team, nothing else matters,” he told reporters when asked if he expected to be given the job.
Solari also heaped praise on Karim Benzema, who is so often the scapegoat whenever Madrid are struggling but who has been in fine form, having scored twice in the 5-0 drubbing of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League in midweek.
“They have all shown great personality, but especially Karim,” he added.
“His first goal was spectacular, so typical of him, and the second is all down to him. He also made the team play, he created space, he defended. It was a complete performance from him.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ian Chadband)