Real Madrid leapt above Sevilla to move into third place in La Liga with a 2-0 victory on Saturday afternoon, as late strikes from midfielders Casemiro and Luka Modric made the difference in a largely tight and forgettable contest.
The second half was certainly promising for Santi Solari’s men, and although they had few clear chances to show for their general dominance it was a step in the right direction.
With plenty still to play for this season, there is room for optimism among Los Blancos that they will be able to finish the season with silverware.
Casemiro to the rescue
The first half showed the good and bad of Madrid, who came out with an impressive degree of intensity and purpose to dominate the early stages. Sevilla were being forced onto the back foot, harried out of possession and given no chance to settle, while the home team worked some nice passing triangles especially between Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez down the right.
But they couldn’t sustain it and Sevilla soon became comfortable, containing Madrid’s possession without any real problems and also creating by far the best chance of the first half when a swift but simple counter-attack allowed Wissam Ben Yedder to release Sergio Escudero, who should have done better than find the side-netting.
Madrid’s fast start had faded into a bitty, incoherent display relying on the trickery of Modric, the direct running of Carvajal and the unpredictable dribbling of Vinicius Junior in attack, with very little collective movement to worry the visiting defence.
The second half was a similar story. Although Solari’s men stepped up the intensity of their play and spent the majority of the second half camped inside the Sevilla half, they were able to create very few decent goalscoring opportunities and needed Casemiro’s unlikely screamer from 25 yards to break the deadlock. Without that, the game could easily have petered out into a goalless draw and the eventual victory should not obscure the team’s ongoing difficulties in replacing a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Two-team title race but Madrid up for the cups?
If these teams are the closest challengers to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the top two have only each other to worry about. On the evidence of this game, it’s very difficult to imagine either Real Madrid or Sevilla mounting a serious charge for the title, and the visitors can almost certainly be ruled out after dropping well off the pace in recent weeks.
Real are now only seven points behind leaders Barcelona, but the reigning champions will play their game in hand at home to Leganes tomorrow night and will surely regain their ten-point advantage – it will take a big and unlikely collapse for Barca to allow themselves to be overhauled by Madrid, and Atletico are surely their only real challengers.
However, the cup competitions could be a different matter. Madrid are only five games from glory in the Copa del Rey, and seven games away from retaining the Champions League for the fourth consecutive year. And although they have endured such a tough season, don’t put it past them: the fierce defensive solidity provided by Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in this game set a strong foundation, meaning they only needed one flash of inspiration – which this time came from Casemiro – to prevail. The league might be beyond them, but write them from cup glory off at your peril.
Sevilla’s downward spiral continues
Sevilla, by contrast, seem to be running badly out of puff – and considering the physical demands placed upon them this season, perhaps that’s no surprise at all.
The Andalusian team started their campaign way back in mid-July with the Europa League qualifying rounds, and their pre-season build-up also contained a Spanish Super Cup meeting with Barcelona which meant they had played five competitive games before the league season even started.
All those games appear to be catching up with Pablo Machin’s team, who have won just one of their last six outings and failed to score in their last three. They were certainly badly lacking in ideas and inspiration in this encounter, only really playing well for 15 minutes towards the end of the first half but being otherwise dominated.
They have a chance to get their season back on track with Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg against Barcelona, but on recent evidence the Catalan side will have few problems in advancing.
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