Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Real Madrid training on Tuesday for the first time after his head injury, sustained on Sunday night against Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga.
The Los Blancos club legend scored a brace in the 7-1 home win at the Bernabeu two days’ ago but took a hefty blow to the head when stooping low to net his second late on.
However, it was business as usual for the 32-year-old at the club’s Valdebebas training ground as he took part in the full session.
Real Madrid host Leganes at home on Wednesday evening in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final clash, with the Whites carrying a slender 1-0 aggregate advantage into the tie.
💪 @Cristiano was back training with the rest of the squad today!
— Real Madrid C.F.🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) January 23, 2018
— AS English (@English_AS) January 23, 2018
Barcelona extended their lead to at the top of La Liga to 11 points, and 19 ahead of Real Madrid, as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both hit braces in a 5-0 romp at Real Betis.
Here’s a look at three things we learned from the encounter.
Setien’s set-up stifles Barca…until Valverde responds
Betis boss Quique Setien changed his usual formation, employing a 3-4-1-2 formation with midfielder Javi Garcia dropping back into a three-man central defence while veteran skipper Joaquin vacated his usual wing berth to operate in a classical ‘number ten’ central role.
The plan worked well from the opening whistle, with Barca unable to establish their usual control over possession due to the home team’s numerical advantage in the centre of the field and determined pressing, with Lionel Messi kept particularly quiet.
It wasn’t until the 25th minute that Barca finally enjoyed a sustained spell of possession, which resulted in their first real chance as Sergi Roberto strode forward and exchanged passes with Luis Suarez to shoot over the bar.
And Barca boss Ernesto Valverde’s mid-game decision to position Roberto and Andre Gomes more centrally allowed his team to take control of the central areas, also bringing Messi more into the action. The rewards came in the second half as Barca went ahead and surged clear, and the game can go down as a real tactical triumph for Valverde after he identified a problem and rectified it.
Suarez well and truly back to his best
It’s only a few weeks since many Barca fans and detached neutrals alike were speculating that Luis Suarez had entered into a sharp decline after a poor start to the season, with the home win against Sevilla in early November marking his fifth consecutive game without a goal.
Now, though, Suarez has managed to regain his form and return to his very best, delivering a magnificent all-round performance against Betis which yielded two goals taken with brutal confidence and a lovely assist for Ivan Rakitic’s opener.
The Uruguayan has now netted in his last seven straight league games, taking his tally for the season to 15, trailing only Messi at the top of La Liga’s scoring charts.
But it wasn’t only Suarez’s goals which caught the eye on Sunday night. He was outstanding in every facet, showing intelligent link play by regularly dropping deep and, as ever, working relentlessly hard to make life difficult for the Betis defenders. On this form, there’s no better centre forward in the world.
Barca get their midfield back
The prominent role played in the victory by Roberto and Rakitic illustrated just how much Barca have improved thanks to the greater balance instilled by Valverde: in short, they have got their midfield back.
Throughout the latter stages of Luis Enrique’s reign, and even during the opening months of the current campaign, Barca were an incoherent team, with some players defending and others attacking but rarely all eleven doing both together and the midfield often bypassed.
Now, though, Valverde has crafted a team which looks solid all over the pitch, capable of reacting to whatever situations present themselves and taking advantage of any weaknesses in the opposition. The improved individual form of many players has been possible because they are now playing in a collective structure which truly works, with the second half of the pre-Christmas Clasico at the Bernabeu perhaps the big turning point.
And, of course, it also helps to have Lionel Messi, who is, just, well…no, sorry. We need to invent some new words. None of the existing ones can do him justice.
Barcelona opened up an 11-point lead at the top of LaLiga after hammering Real Betis 5-0 at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on Sunday.
Ernesto Valverde’s side saw second-placed Atletico Madrid draw 1-1 against Girona on Saturday and took full advantage in Seville.
They had to wait until the second half to open the scoring, through Ivan Rakitic in the 59th minute, but eventually ran out comfortable winners.
Lionel Messi made it 2-0 just five minutes after Rakitic had struck and Luis Suarez’s effort in the 69th minute effectively ended the contest.
Messi added his second of the night with 10 minutes remaining and Suarez grabbed a brace of his own late on.