It’s difficult to think of a more influential captain in recent times than Sergio Ramos, and he dragged his team over the finish line once more with a thumping late header against Real Betis – leaving Madrid four points clear at the top the table. Barcelona had slipped up against Deportivo earlier in the day, which meant that Los Blancos had the perfect opportunity to reinforce their title credentials at the Bernabéu; one they had to work for more than they would have envisaged.
After an away victory against Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday, Zidane opted to rest a number of key players on the night – and it looked to have been a good decision early on as the likes of Isco and James were combining well with their teammates to create chances for their side. In fact, Madrid failed to capitalise on couple of decent goal-scoring chances in the opening exchanges; and were made to pay for it shortly after a speculative effort from Anthony Sanabria was awkwardly bundled into the net by Keylor Navas. This was the Costa Rican’s second major mistake of the night, after he had somehow managed to avoid a red card for a blatant foul on Darko Brasanac just minutes earlier.
Madrid piled on the pressure after conceding, and it ultimately paid off as a curling cross from Marcelo found its way to an unmarked Ronaldo at the back-post – and the Portuguese forward adjusted his body to head the ball firmly past the keeper. It restored a sense of calm to the Madrid dressing room just before the first-half, and surely changed the tone of their manager’s team-talk as well. The line-up was unchanged after the interval as the game settled into a sluggish pace, and chances were few and far between for either side. The game changed after Benzema and Lucas Vazquez were introduced with 20 minutes left of the clock, as the latter drew a second yellow-card from Matteo Piccinini to give Madrid the extra man.
It didn’t took long for the advantage to count, and it was the lethal combination of Kroos and Ramos that proved successful again – as the German’s pin-point delivery found the Madrid captain’s on-rushing head. The stadium erupted after the goal, and the fans continued to sing their hero’s praises until the final whistle; albeit a dramatic late save from Navas was needed to keep the score-line level. Despite the victory, Zidane is likely to be left with more questions than answers as his side continues to concede early goals – having fallen behind in five of their last seven games. Positive changes are needed if Madrid are to deliver on all fronts, but their remarkable character will have fans feeling hopeful of success going forward.