In their last La Liga encounter before the Club World Cup, Zinedine Zidane chose to rest several key players against Deportivo La Coruña – with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Luka Modric left out of the squad altogether. It was expected to be a relatively straightforward home victory for Los Blancos, but it took a 92nd minute winner from Sergio Ramos to seal all three points as Gaizka Garitano’s men put up a valiant fight.
Madrid lined up in an unorthodox 4-3-3 with Danilo, Ramos, Pepe, and Nacho in defense; Casemiro, Kroos, and Isco in midfield; and a front-three of Asensio, James Rodriguez, and Morata. With no natural wide players in the XI, it was up to the full-backs to provide width going forward – a tactic which bore no fruit as Zidane’s side labored through an uneventful first-half which produced very few chances for both sides.
Both teams played at a noticeably higher pace after the restart and Morata gave Real Madrid the lead with a curling long-range strike in the 50th minute. The hosts were unable to double their lead and were made to pay for individual errors as substitute Joselu managed to capitalize on mistakes from Casemiro and Ramos in quick succession to make it 2-1 in Deportivo’s favor. It was a dream return to the Bernabéu for Joselu, who spent several years in the Madrid youth ranks.
With 25 minutes left on the clock, the Galacticos needed to score twice to restore their lead – and more importantly, their 6-point cushion over second-place Barcelona. Zidane introduced Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vazquez, and Marcelo to inject some freshness into the team, and it payed off in the 84th minute as Mariano fortuitously turned in Vazquez’s cross to level the score-line. Madrid then pushed on for a winner, which looked increasingly unlikely as they entered stoppage time – but Ramos delivered the final blow to the visitors in the 92nd minute with a close-range header to send the stadium into raptures.
It could prove to a vital win for Zidane and his team in the race for the La Liga title, and provide a welcome morale-boost for the players as they prepare for the Club World Cup finals in Japan. Moreover, Madrid’s unbeaten streak now stands at a club-record 35 games – one greater than the record set by Leo Beenhakker’s side in the 1988-89 season. All eyes will be on the Champions League winners as they look to conquer the world, and nobody will be surprised if Sergio Ramos is there to guide them home once again.