Rayo Vallecano 0-1 Real Madrid: Benzema late show sends Los Blancos nine clear
Karim Benzema and Real Madrid left it late to go nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.
Madrid entered Saturday's contest with the chance to stretch their advantage over second-placed Sevilla but laboured for long periods against a side on a four-game losing streak.
Casemiro had the ball in the net late in the first half but saw his strike ruled out for offside.
Madrid struggled to exert dominance thereafter and were somewhat fortunate not to fall behind in the second half, but seven minutes from time Benzema tapped in to seal the points after an excellent one-two with Vinicius Junior.
Madrid unsurprisingly dominated possession in the first half but it wasn't until the 24th minute that their former goalkeeper Luca Zidane was truly tested as he was forced to turn Marco Asensio's curling shot behind.
Rayo carried a threat of their own, however, and soon after Asensio went close, Madrid were grateful to see Sergi Guardiola's header whistle past the left-hand post.
Benzema then saw an effort deflected narrowly wide of the goal before Casemiro appeared to have lashed Madrid in front, only for VAR to intervene.
The hosts continued to cause Madrid problems after the break, with Thibaut Courtois forced into an acrobatic save to tip Mario Suarez's header from Oscar Trejo's corner over the crossbar.
However, Rayo's valiant efforts were undone by the quality of Madrid's best two attacking players.
Benzema collected the ball on the edge of the box from Rodrygo Goes and slid Vinicius in down the right-hand side of the box before surging into the area himself to tap in a simple finish from the Brazilian's composed cutback and seal the points.
What does it mean? Unconvincing Madrid have convincing lead
It speaks to the quality, or lack thereof, of their title rivals that Madrid have been able to open up such a lead at the top.
This was another game in which Carlo Ancelotti's men were unconvincing, but the declines suffered by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona and Sevilla's comparative lack of consistency means Madrid are red hot favourites to win the title.
More last-gasp glory for Madrid
With Benzema's winner, Madrid have now scored 16 goals in the last 15 minutes of the second half, more than any other side in LaLiga this season.
Sergi's shooting struggles
Guardiola attempted eight shots for Rayo, the joint-highest total for a player in LaLiga this season, but hit the target with just two and finished with an Expected Goals of 0.41, indicating that his opportunities were not high-percentage ones.
No player had more touches inside the opposition box than his 11 but he will look back on what might have been.
Madrid host Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu next Saturday. Rayo have the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final with Real Betis on Thursday before travelling to Cadiz on Sunday.