Vinícius double leads Madrid to 2-1 win at 10-man Elche

(AP) — Vinícius Júnior took over the scoring duties from Karim Benzema by netting twice to help Real Madrid win 2-1 at 10-man Elche on Saturday and move to the top of the Spanish league standings.

Vinícius opened the scoring with a 22nd-minute strike. After Elche midfielder Raúl Guti was sent off for a second booking, the Brazilian winger then put the result beyond doubt in the 73rd.

Elche substitute Pere Milla pulled one back with four to play, but it was not enough to keep his side unbeaten at home this campaign.

The 21-year-old Vinícius once again showed his much-improved finishing. The double took his tally in all competitions to nine in 14 appearances this season, compared to six goals in 47 outings in 2020-21.

“This is thanks to the work I have been putting in since I arrived,” said Vinícius, who debuted for Madrid aged 18 after the club had secured his transfer from Brazil’s Flamengo when he was 16.

Real Sociedad is level on points with Madrid before it hosts Athletic Bilbao in a Basque Country derby on Sunday. After that, Madrid will still have a game in hand.

Carlo Ancelotti rested Benzema ahead of Madrid’s Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

Madrid’s only victory in its previous four league games came last weekend when it won 2-1 at Barcelona.

Mariano Díaz played his first minutes of the season in Benzema’s place. The rarely-used striker showed his reflexes were still sharp when he used his heel to knock a pass from Casemiro into the path of Vinícius for him to fire under Kiko Casilla.

Elche almost equalized thanks to Lucas Boyé. The striker stole the ball from David Alaba in the box, only for Lucas Pérez to waste a back-heeled pass by Javier Pastore that left him alone with only Thibaut Courtois to beat.

Elche was pressing for an equalizer when Guti made a dangerous tackle on Toni Kroos and was sent off in the 63rd.

Vinícius finished Elche off when he chipped the ball over Casilla from a tight angle after Luka Modric played him clear with one touch.

Milla scored against the flow of play when Casemiro’s pass near his area was intercepted, leaving the forward alone to beat Courtois.

Madrid lost forward Rodrygo in the opening minutes to what appeared to be a leg injury.

Later, Barcelona plays its first match since the firing of Ronald Koeman when caretaker coach Sergi Barjuan leads the team against Alavés at Camp Nou. Sevilla can pull level with Madrid and Sociedad if it beats Osasuna, while Villarreal visits Valencia.

On Sunday, Real Betis can also pull level with Madrid and Sociedad if it beats Atlético Madrid.