Real Madrid did not play well in Saturday’s 2-1 win at home against Malaga, but the welcome three points saw them secure the virtual “winter champions” crown at the midway point of the season.
The hero, as so often before, was Sergio Ramos, who converted two Toni Kroos set pieces (the second one from an offside position) to just about see off a Malaga team missing nine senior squad members for various reasons but who still came close to nicking an unlikely point.
The Bernabeu crowd grumbled and groaned their way through the 90 minutes, occasionally venting their frustration with whistles at forwards Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, who both had very poor games. Afterward, both coach Zinedine Zidane and captain Ramos asked fans angered by the team’s two recent defeats to be more patient and supportive, especially as Luka Modric and Marcelo were added to their lengthy injury list on Saturday.
The critical mood seems harsh, given that the team remains a point clear at the top with a game in hand. But this is the reality at Madrid, and the local press are already worried about a return of “the Club World Cup curse” that in 2015 ended Carlo Ancelotti’s reign as coach just a year after he won the Champions League. Zidane and his side must turn around their Copa del Rey tie at Celta Vigo on Wednesday, or the pressure really will build.
Sevilla rode their luck at times but came through strongly to win 4-3 at strugglers Osasuna on Sunday to keep Jorge Sampaoli’s supercharged side right on Madrid’s tail in the title race.
Vicente Iborra (two), Franco Vazquez and Pablo Sarabia were the goal scorers as Sevilla came from behind to win for the fifth time this season. Their fifth away win in La Liga means their struggles on the road in recent seasons are now long gone.
“The players looked for the opposition goal from the start of the game right to the end,” Sampaoli said afterward, as his team had collected a club-record 42 points from the first half of the campaign.
Sevilla will have to match that at least if they are to see off both Madrid and Barcelona and take what would be just the club’s second Primera Division championship. But just being in the conversation is a phenomenal achievement.
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