A Cristiano Ronaldo brace inspired Real Madrid to a comfortable 4-0 win over Alaves at the Bernabeu.
The Portuguese star – the skipper for the day in the absence of Marcelo and Sergio Ramos – passed up the chance to score his hat-trick to gift Karim Benzema a late penalty after Gareth Bale had been fouled.
The Frenchman buried from the spot with Bale himself getting on the scoresheet as the famed ‘BBC’ trio fired Madrid to the three points.
Here, we rate Zinedine Zidane’s side after the 4-0 win.
REAL MADRID (4-4-2)
Keylor Navas 8 – David De Gea is set to sign a new deal with Manchester United and Real should simply shrug their shoulders at the news. Navas is grossly underappreciated. In the first half he made three saves – the most at home this season – and two were crucial in denying a gallant Alaves.
Dani Carvajal 6 – Motored down the right wing all game and displayed some silky dribbling skills in the second half. Did leave the right side a little exposed in the first half with his position so high up the pitch but was comfortable after the break.
Raphael Varane 7 – Positionally the Frenchman can still be caught out but his speed across the pitch to atone for any error is simply bonkers. Led by example at the back and kept a clean sheet. Can’t ask for much more.
Nacho 6 – Struggled when the visitors countered with pace in the first half. Looks a little a burnt out which is no surprise considering the amount of minutes he’s put in this season.
Theo Hernandez 7 – Good defensive instincts when he’s in the further two-thirds of the pitch. Still lacks the confidence when anything is near his own box but he was committed and made some tidy challenges. Almost grabbed his first Madrid goal with a Bale-style slalom into the box before his effort was cleared off the line.
Casemiro 7 – Made a monstrous six interceptions and he’s thriving playing as the No8 with his midfield partner Kovacic deeper as the No6. He hasn’t been adding much to Real’s build-up play this season but operating further up were his mistakes can be covered has brought the best from him.
Mateo Kovacic 8 – Luka who? Modric’s injury was a concern but Real fans shouldn’t worry too much because his 23-year-old Croatian heir is showing superb form since coming into the starting XI. Another display hallmarked by a fantastic workrate, technique and composure.
Lucas Vazquez 8 – One of the few players who was crucial in both phases of play. BBC will get all the headlines but he was a crucial link in attack and showed tremendous desire working back the opposite way. Got another assist to set-up Ronaldo – his 10th of the season – and the 26-year-old is enjoying a stellar campaign.
Gareth Bale 7 – Connected beautifully with an overhead kick attempt in the first half which just went wide and of course the Welsh wizard took his goal well, earning a penalty late on, too. The most impressive aspect of his game was his work rate and responsibility to carry the attack. He had 86 touches in the game, only Carvajal (90) had more.
Cristiano Ronaldo 7 – Rolled the defender expertly before fiercely finishing with his ‘weaker’ left foot to open the scoring and then elegantly added his second from a Vazquez pull back. Clinical performance from El Capitano who has now scored in all three games he’s been Madrid skipper.
Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to score his 50th career hat-trick and 300th Liga goal... but he let Karim Benzema take the penalty to complete Real Madrid's 4-0 win against Alavés.— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 24, 2018
Classy 👏👏👏#UCL pic.twitter.com/GyhtXpsfq7
Karim Benzema 8 – Where are the critics now? Began the game in typical Benzema fashion by losing his footing to slice an ugly effort wide when one v one. Then produced a miss of the season contender from two-yards out only to have his blushes saved by the offside flag. But two assists – the first for Ronaldo in particular was world class – and seven key passes justifies Zidane’s faith in him. Took his penalty well, too, but perhaps he is far better at making goals than scoring them.
Dani Ceballos 6 – Arrived for Kovacic with 20 minutes remaining to a big cheer after the debacle over his 29-second cameo against Leganes.
Marcos Llorente N/A – A late substitute for Casemiro.
Bale was again omitted for Wednesday’s 3-1 La Liga win at Leganes, coming on for only the final 14 minutes.
Reports in Spain claimed after the game that Bale has “run out of credit” at the Bernabeu and the European champions will try to offload him this summer.
But Zidane, speaking at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s home league game against Alaves, said: “He will always be important in the team and is in the process of getting himself right.
“A player always misses out, I am not thinking of one or two but all the players.
“I know that some players are not of interest to you but there are those that train each day, hardly ever play and I am interested in them.
“I see Bale like all of them and I count on all of them.
“The important thing is that they train well and focused. I want him to be 100 per cent and I do not want to lose him again.
“A lot of things are important and there is a lot also under the surface, but I am sure that he will go on to play an important role.”
Bale has had another injury-hit campaign in the Spanish capital, missing two months in the autumn with a calf problem.
The 28-year-old has still scored nine goals this term, but he has struggled to make an impact in recent weeks and not been on the scoresheet in his last six appearances.
He was also on the bench for the recent La Liga game against real Sociedad and also Paris St Germain, in the Champions League.
Bale did not appear happy to be a substitute at Leganes but could return to the starting line-up against Alaves, with doubts over Marco Asensio’s fitness.
Asensio was absent from real’s training session on Friday morning because he was at the dentist having a troublesome wisdom tooth removed.
Injured trio Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo will definitely miss out and Zidane was keen to smooth out differences with midfielder Dani Ceballos, who was visibly irritated at being sent on in the final minute at Leganes.
“I felt bad and I am very sorry,” Zidane said.
“I told him and I do not like to put on a player for 30 seconds for nothing.
— Real Madrid C.F.🇺🇸🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) February 22, 2018
“He has not had many minutes and keeps working, he is fantastic and I remember the game against Alaves (real won the away game 2-1 in September) when he scored two goals.”
On real’s recent return to form with four straight wins, Zidane added: “It is clear that we have character, personality and to score 26 goals in six games is very good.
“We want to continue this good run.”
Alaves have also been in fine form, winning three consecutive league games for the first time this season.
Victories over Celta Vigo, Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna have lifted them clear of relegation trouble.
“We are at our best and we will try to get the three points,” winger Ibai Gomez told the official Alaves website.
“But we know we are playing a team that is obliged to win all their matches and we must have a positive mentality.”
Former Barcelona forward Munir El Haddadi is suspended for Alaves after picking up a fifth yellow card.
Diego Simeone’s men face a tricky trip to Sevilla on Sunday, giving Los Blancos the opportunity to get close to their second-placed neighbours.
Real are unbeaten in six league matches since January’s 1-0 home defeat to Villarreal and have plundered 13 goals in their past three La Liga fixtures.
Confidence is high among Zinedine Zidane‘s squad but the Frenchman has plenty to mull over ahead of the Bernabeu clash.
SELECTION HEADACHE FOR REAL
Club captain Sergio Ramos picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Leganes in the mid-week 3-1 win and will miss this clash as he serves a one-match ban.
He joins Marcelo on the sidelines, with the Brazilian still recovering from the leg injury he sustained in the 5-3 victory at Real Betis.
It means Nacho is the man likely to come in at centre-back for Ramos and partner the ever-improving Raphael Varane in the backline.
Luka Modric (hamstring) and Toni Kroos (knee) are also both missing in the engine room while Jesus Vallejo (thigh) is a major doubt for this one.
The other issue centres on Marco Asensio, who is rated at 50-50 as to whether he will take to the pitch after missing training on Friday following the removal of a wisdom tooth.
His absence could mean the in-form Lucas Vazquez will keep his place after a goalscoring outing against Leganes.
KEY MEN TO RETURN
Whites legend Cristiano Ronaldo was given the night off on Wednesday but will come straight back into the XI and should be refreshed after taking a break away with his family.
With this match and two more La Liga fixtures to come before the March 6 Champions League return leg against Paris Saint-Germain, it was a sensible call from Zidane.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas will also come straight back in after being rested in favour of back-up Kiko Casilla.
Welshman Gareth Bale, who came off the bench three days ago, is also likely to play from the start while Mateo Kovacic and Karim Benzema should retain their places in a more fluid system, echoing a 4-4-2.
AND WHAT NEXT FOR DANI CEBALLOS?
It’s not often a stoppage-time substitution when the game is already won makes the headlines, but the 21-year-old’s 29 seconds on the pitch against Leganes has caused quite a stir.
The former Real Betis midfielder reportedly let it be known he wasn’t best pleased but perhaps he should have been grateful for some game time given he had not featured in La Liga since last December previously?
Either way, whatever the politics, reasons or message behind Zidane’s substitution was, may be Ceballos should take it as a sign that he is closer to the first-team than he thinks.
With injuries in the midfield, he has to take the next chance that comes along, whether that’s on Saturday or not.