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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain: Turkish teenager Arda Guler’s strike helped Real Madrid close in on the Spanish title with a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad on Friday, moving 14 points clear at the top of La Liga.

After last weekend’s Clasico win over second place Barcelona it appears a formality for Madrid to take the title back from their arch-rivals, and Guler helped them move one step closer.

The playmaker, 19, has endured an injury-hit season but on his first league start snatched a heavily rotated Madrid side a tight victory at the Reale Arena.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti rested virtually his entire first choice team with Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal visit to face Bayern Munich in mind.

Top scorer Jude Bellingham was on the bench after recovering from a stomach problem to earn a late addition to the squad list, alongside Vinicius Junior, Toni Kroos and various other stars.

As a result Madrid conjured little in attack beyond Guler’s goal, with the hosts, sixth, on top in driving San Sebastian rain.

“Arda scored a goal, Arda will be an important player for us in the future, there’s no doubt he’ll be here next year,” Ancelotti told reporters, also praising his team’s commitment despite the rotations.

“It was quite clear that everyone thought we were coming here for a stroll, the only ones who didn’t think so were the players,” he continued.

“I am proud of the players because they had the desire and will to keep winning… I have to thank them because from that point of view, they were spectacular.”

Madrid goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, on loan from Chelsea, pushed away a Takefusa Kubo effort as La Real continued to probe.

Ancelotti also gave defender Eder Militao his first start after his long-term knee injury.

The Brazilian looked uncertain but Real Sociedad could not capitalize, with Benat Turrientes firing narrowly over.

Despite previously failing to generate openings of their own, Madrid took the lead in the 29th minute.

Aurelien Tchouameni swept the ball out to Dani Carvajal on the right, who stroked a low ball across the area.

It was a perfectly placed pass by the Spain international — playing seemingly only as he is suspended for the visit to Munich — and Guler arrived in the right place at the right time to finish.

Kubo thought he had pulled Real Sociedad level against his former side before the break when he beat Militao and slotted home, but Ander Barrenetxea was penalized for a foul on Tchouameni in the buildup.

“Barrene went to steal the ball and the only thing I can say is that the player who loses it was sleeping,” Kubo told Movistar.

Arrizabalaga pushed a Turrientes effort wide in the second half and Ancelotti called on the cavalry for the final 25 minutes, sending Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde into the fray.

Another substitute, Antonio Rudiger, made a vital block on an attempted Oyarzabal dink to deflect the forward’s effort behind for a corner.

Alex Remiro made a fine save to deny Eduardo Camavinga late on as the reinforced visitors took control in five minutes of added time to see out the win.

The match was brought forward to Friday from Saturday at little more than a week’s notice, to help Madrid prepare for their Champions League match at Bayern.

“It’s a pity, whoever watched the game knew that we deserved to win,” added Kubo.

“It’s a pity for the fans, because of the rain, the change of schedule… all that rubbish.”

Barcelona face Valencia on Monday in La Liga but the Catalans have all but thrown in the towel in the title race.

Madrid’s performance was decidedly forgettable but they are eyeing a league and Champions League double for the fifth time in their history — and that would be something to remember.
 

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