Isco struggles again and other talking points from Real Madrid's win over Eibar

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Isco is off colour for the Whites.

Cristiano Ronaldo came to the rescue again as Real Madrid followed up their thumping win over Paris Saint-Germain with a narrow victory against Eibar.

Ronaldo scored twice, his second six minutes from the end, as Real won 2-1 and avoided another slip-up in La Liga. Ivan Ramis had equalised for Eibar shortly after half-time.

With Barcelona in action against Malaga later on Saturday (11:45pm UAE time) and Atletico Madrid playing host to Celta Vigo on Sunday (7:15pm), Real closed the gap on their city rivals to four points but are still 12 points off Blaugrana.

Here, we assess three talking points as Zinedine Zidane’s men can travel back from the northern tip of Spain happy.

ISCO’S STRUGGLES IN MIDFIELD CONTINUE

Not many players have the technical ability and playmaking wizardry the Spaniard possesses but the 25-year-old can look pretty ordinary when his confidence levels are low. Saturday was another case in point.

Zinedine Zidane withdrew the midfielder after a lethargic 71-minute display in which fellow engine room stars Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, both feeling their way back from injury, outshone him.

Isco wasn’t trusted to start in Tuesday’s Champions League win at the Parc des Princes, and came on with 19 minutes remaining, going some way to showing how much Real’s star of the 2016-17 season has dipped in form.

The former Malaga man’s control was off and he made just 46 touches on the ball and 30 passes, with both being the fewest out of all Madrid midfielders.

A suggestion is that Isco has fallen victim to Zidane’s high-press and energetic tactics away from home, which have seen the midfielder chasing and harrying opponents more than ever, but equally, could it be a case that he’s lacking fitness or is just burnt out?

Isco has completed just 90 minutes five times this season, all of them coming at sporadic intervals in La Liga, while an apparent falling out with captain Sergio Ramos off the pitch has only served to fuel the fire of debate.

EIBAR, SPAIN - MARCH 10: Daniel Garcia of SD Eibar duels for the ball with Isco Alarcon of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Real Madrid at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Eibar, Spain . (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Isco’s not been having a disco in 2018.

THERE’S NO STOPPING CRISTIANO RONALDO

With clashes to come early next month against Atletico Madrid and then the Champions League quarter-final, an argument could have been made to rest the club legend yet again, for the third time in five league matches – preserving his premium match sharpness.

But, then again, Zidane has to be credited for resisting that temptation and continuing to play a man who is just a freak of nature.

Ronaldo’s rich vein of goalscoring form – 13 goals in his last six matches – has been truly staggering and he doesn’t look like missing.

Without him, it’s maybe scary to ponder where this team would be with Gareth Bale (90 minutes) and Karim Benzema (20 minute cameo) proving ineffective, short of sharpness and void of any kind of conviction.

Ronaldo, along with the outstanding Luka Modric in the middle of the park who set up the Portuguese’s first with a gorgeous curling through pass, was the difference against a spirited Eibar side which treated this match as a home cup final.

It’s amazing to think that the 33-year-old was pretty much written off following the 3-0 league reverse against Barcelona back in December last year but now has 33 goals to his name this season – which is one more than Lionel Messi – and only two back on top European goalscorer Harry Kane.

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Spanish league football match between Eibar and Real Madrid at the Ipurua stadium in Eibar on March 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)

Club legend: Cristiano Ronaldo.

DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES STILL THERE

The early loss of Raphael Varane with a head injury upset Real’s back four but still, seasoned campaigner Nacho came off the bench.

It didn’t matter much – Madrid were fragile and guilty of overplaying in the backline – taking plenty of chances by passing the ball across their own penalty area and back to Keylor Navas in tight areas.

The Whites have won eight out of the past 10 matches in La Liga but shipped goals regularly in that period and looked susceptible to crosses into the box.

PSG’s bundled equaliser in the Champions League in Paris was more proof of that as Zidane’s side failed to deal with a routine centre and the second ball which fell to Edinson Cavani.

On Saturday, Sergio Ramos switched off completely and didn’t enjoy his finest afternoon for the visitors.

The 31-year-old completely lost both the flight of the ball and his man Ivan Ramis from a second-half corner as the veteran defender headed home unmarked.

But for Ronaldo’s clinical instincts in front of goal, that slip-up should have proved costly and Eibar deserved something from a match in which they poured their heart and soul into.

It was another timely reminder that Madrid may not enjoy the same such defensive fortune in the latter stages of the Champions League, with the Basque minnows cutting Real open easily and managing 12 shots on goal throughout.

EIBAR, SPAIN - MARCH 10: Kike Garcia of SD Eibar duels for the ball with Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Real Madrid at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Eibar, Spain . (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Off day: Whites captain Sergio Ramos.

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Real Madrid player ratings as two-goal Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric star in Eibar win

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Cristiano Ronaldo got both goals for Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo came to the rescue again as Real Madrid followed up their thumping win over Paris Saint-Germain with a narrow victory against Eibar.

Ronaldo scored twice, his second six minutes from the end, as Real won 2-1 and avoided another slip-up in La Liga. Ivan Ramis had equalised for Eibar shortly after half-time.

His double means Ronaldo has now scored in seven consecutive games and has a remarkable 13 goals overall in that period.

Real move four points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid, who will restore that gap to seven with a win over Celta Vigo on Sunday. Eibar stay eighth.

Here, we look at how Los Blancos players fared at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium.

Keylor Navas  6: A strong presence between the sticks, did well to stop a cross-goal Kike effort and was generally under heavy pressure from hosts, particularly in first-half. Could do nothing about the goal but did he have to tip over Gonzalo Escalante’s centre that led to corner? Probably not.

Dani Carvajal – 6: Had trouble dealing with the threat of Japan star Takashi Inui and often felt isolated on the right. Lacked protection from Real’s overworked middle but came up trumps for the winner, putting the ball on a sixpence for Ronaldo to head home.

Sergio Ramos – 4: The skipper was at sea for Eibar’s equaliser, losing veteran Ivan Ramis who then headed home from close range. Big lapse could have really cost Madrid and also guilty of overplaying the ball in areas where he should have cleared danger.

Raphael Varane  5: Felt the effects of first-half head collision with Dani Garcia and it was a nasty one at that. Taken off for Nacho after 27 minutes.

Marcelo 7  Capa gave Brazilian plenty of early problems down the left but left-back was still a roving force going forward and always provided the Whites with an outlet.

Toni Kroos – 6: Stepped up full return from knee injury with 70 odd minutes. Lacked some composure with first-touch but wholehearted commitment was there. Ran out of legs in second period.

Casemiro – 6: Involved in a possible handball penalty appeal in first-half and was lucky to escape but generally went about his business with typical gusto. Very much the mainstay and man Zidane relies on in central midfield.

Luka Modric – 8: Making his first appearance since the Champions League first leg win over PSG, the veteran playmaker’s finesse and vision was crucial in a Madrid side devoid of creativity. Laid ball on a plate for Ronaldo and should have scored after mazy run on 55 minutes. Real’s best player.

Isco – 5: Form woes continue as the Spaniard’s touch and passing was off. Still searching to get back to his 2017 form, with substitution on 71 minutes summing it up.

Gareth Bale – 6: Booked early on and involved in some good forward runs but struggled for any real kind of cutting edge. Lacked sharpness.

Cristiano Ronaldo  8: Frustrated figure early on but scored sublime opener following first-class chest control and finish. Constant bright spark despite being victim of heavy Joan Jordan challenge. Twice denied by Marko Dmitrovic in second period before eventually having his say and scoring a headed winner with six minutes to go.

SUBSTITUTES

Nacho – 6: Slotted in to usual centre-half berth but looked shaky alongside Ramos as Real dallied all too often with possession around their penalty area.

Lucas Vazquez – 6: Gave Madrid some fresh legs as the away side saw off a late Eibar onslaught.

Karim Benzema – 5: Offered very little during his 25-minute stay on the pitch.

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Zinedine Zidane reiterates Gareth Bale's importance to Real Madrid ahead of Eibar clash

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Zinedine Zidane has insisted Gareth Bale remains a “crucial” part of Real Madrid‘s plans despite increased speculation linking the Welshman with a big-money return to the Premier League next season.

Rumours have reignited over Bale’s future since he was forced to start on the bench for Real’s 2-1 Champions League win over Paris St Germain on Tuesday.

But Zidane is adamant Bale is not going anywhere and is likely to restore him to his starting line-up when Real face the potentially difficult trip to eighth-placed Eibar on Saturday.

Zidane told a press conference: “Gareth is not lacking anything. He is part of a squad full of good players. He didn’t start in either of the last 16 games (against Paris) but I haven’t got any problem with him.

“There is no problem with him being on the bench – I spoke with him and he knows what it’s about. I pick a team every three days and for me Gareth is crucial – but there are other important players as well.”

Real’s win over PSG lifted some of the pressure on Zidane, whose team languish in third place in LaLiga, 15 points behind leaders Barcelona, and will plunge back into crisis if they fail to win in Ipurua.

“I’m not here to convince anyone,” Zidane said. “I don’t want to change people’s opinions. Right now everyone is saying I’m the best, a tactician, but it’s ridiculous – if I lose to Eibar they’ll say I’m the worst.

“It’s hard to stay at the top level throughout the course of the season. When you drop points on the teams above and a gap opens up, it’s difficult.

“But in our work day to day this is my message – that we will not give in. LaLiga is not finished. We’re going to keep fighting because anything can happen in football.”

Zidane is faced with some big decisions for the trip to Eibar, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos also pushing to return to his starting line-up after joining Bale on the bench for the midweek Champions League trip.

Isco is also in contention for return with Zidane mulling over whether he can afford to hand the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo a rest after he played a full part in the recent busy spell.

Zidane is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his side against Eibar, who successfully battled relegation this season and have gone from strength to strength, despite a recent blip which has seen them win just one of their last four games.

“We’re in for another tough game at a difficult place to go,” added Zidane. “Eibar are having a fantastic season. They’re a brave and disciplined team and I’m not surprised by their league position. They are going to make life hard for us.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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