In an interesting afternoon of football, Real Madrid beat Sevilla 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The win sends Zinedine Zidane’s men to the top of the LaLiga table and leaves Sevilla frustrated in fourth. Who were the winners and losers?
Casemiro used to be a striker. Given the peerless technique on his tackles and his incredible ability to avoid yellow cards for his fouls, you’d never know it. Well, actually, today you’d probably have guessed. With Los Blancos missing several key forwards, someone had to step up and score the goals to take them past their visitors Sevilla.
And that someone was Casemiro. First he ran powerfully into the box, catching a tasty backheel pass and then lifting it up and over the onrushing Tomáš Vaclík with the deftest of touches. It was the kind of supreme goal you’d expect Karim Benzema to score, and to see it come from a defensive midfielder was quite a sight!
1 – Casemiro has scored his first brace as Real Madrid player. Premier. pic.twitter.com/9YnyVw68Qx
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 18, 2020
Casemiro confirmed his striker heritage with the second goal, running forward into the box and being right in position to rise and head home a delicious cross and put Madrid back into the lead. It was the Brazilian’s first brace of his Madrid career and a match-winning turn from a player we expect to contribute at the other end of the pitch.
Loser: Julen Lopetegui
Sevilla played really against Real Madrid in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan earlier this season. Then they lost 0-1 anyway. Sevilla also played really well against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. Then they lost 4-0 anyway. Today they came to the Santiago Bernabeu and Julen Lopetegtui would have been hopeful that his new team could finally beat his old team.
And whilst Sevilla competed for 45 minutes, out-playing Madrid, they headed into the break level at 0-0. After that, they quite simply never came out to play in the second-half. They went 1-0 down but managed to steal an equaliser, a genuinely impressive goal, but didn’t build on that.
So five minutes later Sevilla were behind once again. After that they never roused themselves to even look like challenging an under-strength Los Blancos side. They just whimpered their way to the final whistle and now people need to ask why Lopetegui cannot get his competitive side to compete at all against the big boys.
Winner: The misfit assisters
Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic share more than a similar first-name. These two Madrid squad men are having pretty poor seasons for Los Blancos. Vazquez just doesn’t seem as potent and dangerous as he used to for Madrid. He’s clearly a favourite of Zidane for his width, crossing and hard work – but he desperately needed today to get him back in the groove. His crossed assist for Casemiro was delightful and killed the game off, and when he did give the ball away and gift a chance for Youssef En-Nesyri, the Moroccan missed.
Jovic, meanwhile, is struggling even more. The summer signing from Eintracht Frankfurt was billed as the heir to Benzema but has struggled to deliver a consistent goal threat. Today he didn’t score but it was his magical backheel that set Casemiro away and into place to score the opening goal of the game. It was a breathtaking bit of improvisation – quite fittingly on Guti’s birthday – his first assist in white and possibly the start of his Real Madrid career.
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VAR is generally pretty good in La Liga. Even when they get decisions wrong they at least go to the monitor and create a great sense of drama. But today at the Santiago Bernabeu VAR made a fool of itself. Not with a bad decision, but with baffling inconsistency.
First they disallowed Luuk de Jong’s back-post header because Eder Militao ran straight into Nemanja Gudelj whilst trying to chase De Jong. This was ludicrous because those kind of screens are never called, and more to the point even if they were – this made no sense. Gudelj was looking at the ball and even if he had remained still, Militao would have still run into him.
However, it was disallowed even though it never should have been. Then in the second-half De Jong scored again, this time from the edge of the box after Munir El Haddadi scrambled to feed him the ball. The thing is, in that scramble, the ball very clearly hit Munir’s elbow. Now, the hit was accidental but it did play a role in Munir retaining possession and usually LaLiga will call that as handball. Except this time they let it go.
Obviously this didn’t have too much bearing on the result of the game as they took a goal away from Sevilla and then let them keep one in the second; but this kind of baffling inconsistency has made VAR look very voolish inveed.
Winner: Zinedine Zidane
The Frenchman is a blessed manager. Here he rocks up to a match against Sevilla with a misfit front three comprising a winger out of form in Vázquez, a striker out of form in Jovic, and a young winger who has gone slightly off the boil (as is normal for any teenager). He was facing fourth-placed Sevilla who hadn’t lost in five away games in La Liga.
So what happened? Madrid bossed the game and his defensive midfielder popped up with two huge goals to give Madrid the lead. Zidane’s charmed life continues, but you have to admire the way he motivates his experienced players to always get the best out of them. He may struggle with youngsters, but the way he can manipulate veterans to get whatever strategic role he needs from them is genuinely incredible.
Barcelona recently sacked their manager Ernesto Valverde. Part of the reason why that move made sense was that the Blaugrana were only top of the table on goal difference having dropped some ridiculous points so far this season. Madrid took full advantage of that, slowly finding their form before matching the Blaugrana stride for stride.
Now with Quique Setién in charge, Barcelona would have been hoping that Los Blancos would gift them a bit of breathing room by dropping points. Instead Madrid powered their way to a win and Setién will begin his Barcelona career already needing to win in order to chase down Madrid at the top of the table, heaping pressure onto him and everyone else at the club. Things have just got a lot more tense in Catalunya.