Real Madrid maintained their two-point lead at the top of La Liga after beating Alaves 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday
Real Madrid took another step towards clinching the La Liga title at the end of the season, as they ran out 3-0 winners over visiting Alaves at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, thus maintaining their two-point lead over Barcelona at the top of the table.
Zinedine Zidane’s men were far from their domineering best following what was a busy international break for several of them. But, they managed to broke the deadlock at the half-hour mark, as Karim Benzema converted from Dani Carvajal’s pull back with a sweetly struck volley into the top left corner.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) April 2, 2017
Real Madrid subsequently struggled to impose themselves for the remainder of the match, as Alaves stood toe to toe with them in the second half. However, Isco doubled the advantage against the run of play after being set free by Cristiano Ronaldo, before producing a fine finish from an acute angle.
The win was then rounded off with just a couple of minutes to go in normal time, after he headed off the rebound from Gareth Bale’s fiercely struck free kick. Here are the talking points that emerged out of a hard-fought win for Real Madrid.
Real Madrid Win Ugly: The Key To Clinching La Liga?
Yet another win for Real Madrid – that makes four league wins in a row. This sequence of results has seen Los Blancos re-establish their lead over Barcelona at the top of the table, after their sub par form at the start of 2017 had threatened to take the title away from their grasps.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 2, 2017
But, their form since March has seen them seize the control in the race to win La Liga ahead of their bitter rivals once again. Having said that, they have not managed to look their eye catching best at all times.
This wasn’t more evident in Sunday’s match, as after complete domination in the first half, Los Blancos had to survive a surprise onslaught from the visitors for much of the second period, showing the grit and determination that has become typical of their game play under Zidane.
Indeed, that has been one of their key attributes all through the campaign, with Real Madrid often winning games without getting out of first gear. This is the kind of qualities that champion sides are built on, the kind of quality that has been missing in recent seasons. Could it hold key for them winning La Liga come May? It remains to be seen.
Alaves Worthy Competitors In Defeat
Alaves are in their first Spanish top flight season since 2005/06, when they went down after a dismal return to La Liga. However, their latest comeback into the Spanish first division has been far from disappointing.
Real Madrid manage to do something that Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao all failed to do…beat Alaves at home!
— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) April 2, 2017
In fact, this has been a campaign in which they’ve surprised many with their high intensity pressing game that has caught several of their opposition teams off guard. This has been a campaign in which they’ve had some major scalps, putting away the likes of Real Sociedad, Villarreal and the mighty Barcelona, among others.
And after being blown away in the first half of the match on Sunday, Alaves bounced back strongly in the second half, refusing to be bullied by their more illustrious hosts. Creating several chances, they put the Real Madrid defence under intense pressure, and it was only their poor conversion in front of goal that stopped them from getting a well deserved point.
The Basque club sit tenth in their return to La Liga this season, and very rightly so. And as we enter the climactic end of the season, it won’t be a surprise if they can manage to clinch a place in Europe next season.
Isco Proves His Importance
2016/17 has been a season of breakthroughs at Real Madrid. The likes of Casemiro, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez have all enjoyed a superb campaign under the tutelage of Zinedine Zidane, enjoying varying levels of success in the process.
— Mido Al-khozndar (@MidoSKhz) April 2, 2017
But there has been one player who has endured a highly frustrating season at the Santiago Bernabeu, falling down the pecking order and regularly struggling for minutes. However, Casemiro’s absence on Sunday afforded Isco a rare start for Real Madrid, and boy did he grab his chance with both hands.
And it goes without saying that he was, by far, the best player on the field from both sides, creating a number of chances for his teammates, putting the Alaves defence under constant pressure with his driving runs and even giving his all at the back.
He was a true commander in midfield in the absence of the dynamic Casemiro, and it isn’t hard to see why Zidane reserved special praise for Isco after the match. Whatever happens after the season – Isco is being linked with a summer exit – will happen after the season, but for now the Spaniard has asserted that he is a vital cog for Real Madrid.
Luka Modric: The Beginning Of The End?
While Isco provided an emphatic reminder of his immense talents with his near-perfect performance on Sunday, the match was exceptionally poor for Luka Modric, Real Madrid’s midfield maestro for much of the last four seasons.
Luka Modric was off today. Heatmap comparison of the MF shows him not near as influential as Kroos or Isco. Love him, but worried about him. pic.twitter.com/7Ylm5hEAeq
— Alex McVey (@JAlexanderMcVey) April 2, 2017
Modric has made a habit of running the games for Los Blancos, pulling the strings from deep in midfield and threading open the most stubborn of defences with breathtaking passes. But, the match against Alaves saw the Croat turn in one of his worst performances wearing the whites of Real Madrid.
Misplacing the simplest of passes, losing possession uncharacteristically and failing to exert any sort of pressure whatsoever, Modric was a pale shadow of himself and a big reason why Real Madrid failed to assert their dominance over Alaves in the second half.
There is no denying that the 31-year-old has been one of the most influential players for Los Blancos in recent seasons, but could age be catching up to him? Whether or not that is the case, Zidane will need his usually go-to man to regain top form in order to ensure victory in their race to win the league title.
Kiko Casilla Makes A Case To Become Number One
Zinedine Zidane took the decision to rest the entire contingency of South and Central American players for the visit of Alaves, which gave some of the fringe players a rare chance to start and impress the Real Madrid boss.
7 – Real Madrid have kept a clean sheet for the 1st time since Feb 18th 2017 vs Espanyol, Kiko Casilla’s last game until today. Confidence. pic.twitter.com/Y0T7MteJpF
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 2, 2017
One of the players who grabbed the opportunity with both hands was Kiko Casilla, who was deputising for Keylor Navas. And he was one of the most fundamental parts of Real Madrid’s success on Sunday, as he proved to be an assured presence between the sticks for his side.
This is a trait that hasn’t been used often to describe Real Madrid’s goalkeepers this season, but Casilla was composed and commanding in behind a rather tired backline. The result of that? A first clean sheet in almost two months – a rare occurrence for Zidane’s side of late.
Casilla has had to play second fiddle to Keylor Navas for much of the campaign and there are rumours that Zidane is looking to recruit a top class goalkeeper in the summer. But if he managed to turn in similar performances for the remainder of the campaign, he could end up changing his manager’s mind.