In a thrilling night of football, Real Madrid beat Sevilla 0-1 in La Liga.
Los Blancos moved to the top of the table thanks to their first victory away to Sevilla in four years. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Karim Benzema
It has to be satisfying being Karim Benzema. For years the Frenchman played a passive, team-first role. He often overlooked his own goalscoring ambitions in order to feed the historic feats of Cristiano Ronaldo, and those in turn powered Real Madrid to do some incredible things. Benzema hoovered up trophies and even managed to score an impressive amount of goals.
Then you get to be the star man, the lead goalscorer, and alright the team doesn’t fare so well but you prove that the only reason you didn’t score avalanches of goals before was because you just didn’t, not that you couldn’t. Benzema hit 30 goals last season and after today he now has five goals in six games this season. And this wasn’t a great performance, but the way Benzema drifted between Sevilla’s defenders and calmly rose to head Dani Carvajal’s cross into the back of the net to win Madrid a tricky away game confirmed that this is a man who can be decisive in front of goal even when he’s struggling.
Loser: Luuk de Jong
Wissam Ben Yedder scored 70 goals in 138 games for Sevilla. He was among the most reliable goalscorers in La Liga. Whenever Sevilla brought him out you felt confident that he could and would score. He left the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan this summer and was replaced, essentially, by Luuk de Jong.
The Dutchman was one of two forwards brought in (alongside Chicharito) and has been the main starter, and he hasn’t scored yet. Tonight against Madrid we saw an awful showing from him. De Jong is a quality player, no one could doubt that, but he seemed completely out of step with his team-mates.
When they passed short he had run behind, and when they fed it in behind he was coming short. He had four shots and never really looked like scoring against Thibaut Courtois, and when you consider that Courtois hadn’t kept a clean sheet since February that is pretty damn poor.
Winner: Sergio Ramos
Real Madrid played PSG midweek and got absolute splattered all over the Parc des Princes, losing 3-0. They came back to Spain and played against Sevilla, winning a closely fought game and keeping a clean sheet. The difference is Sergio Ramos didn’t play in the first game and was back in action for the second.
Real Madrid’s captain is not, strictly speaking, the best defender. He’s often erratic and error prone and his awareness of danger in the space around him is often non-existent; but he is an incredible leader. There is no doubt that Real Madrid are a much better side when he is in it because of the effect he has on his team-mates.
Against Sevilla we saw evidence of Ramos’ quality as he intercepted and cleared several crosses and passes from the home side. But more than that we saw how he inspired his team-mates. Casemiro looked something like the player he was two years ago, tackling anything that moved; and Raphael Varane went godmode. The Frenchman looked shaky in Paris when partnered by Eder Miliato, but with Ramos by his side he made a ridiculous (and match-high) nine clearances, looking so comfortable swatting Sevilla attacks aside. Even poor Thibaut Courtois managed to keep a clean sheet, his first for Madrid since early February! Sergio Ramos is transformative for Real Madrid.
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Loser: Julen Lopetegui
Real Madrid are responsible for the worst few months of Julen Lopetegui’s career. Los Blancos’ rude and presumptive negotiation techniques (where they just straight-up didn’t ask the Spanish FA if they could talk to Lopetegui) ended up costing the coach his dream job of managing Spain at the 2018 World Cup, a World Cup they probably would have won given their quality and form.
But at least he’d get to manage Real Madrid, right? Wrong. Sure, he got to coach the side but he didn’t get the consistent striker he asked for and the side never really adapted to his style of play. He was sacked midway through his first season even though his long-term project had barely begun. His dreams shattered by the callous impatience of Florentino Perez.
So today when his undefeated Sevilla side prepared to play Real Madrid you can believe that he desperately wanted to win and show his former employers what a mistake they made getting rid of him. And yet, his team didn’t manage to get him even close to his revenge. Sure they dominated the game and their build-up was nice, but their inability to deliver a quality final ball (and Lopetegui’s hesitance in bringing Nolito off the bench) ended up allowing Los Blancos to beat Sevilla and go top. No revenge for Julen tonight.
Winner: Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane has endured a torrid time of things since returning to the Real Madrid dugout. It appeared that the good fortune which followed him like a shadow during his first spell in charge seemed to have deserted him, and in its wake was a lot of bluster, a lot of nonsense and a whole load of crosses. The shine had definitely come off the apple and the defeat to PSG was a brand new low.
From that low, however, Zidane had motivated his players and gotten them to produce their best performance of the season against Sevilla. The coach had everyone committed and singing from the same hymn sheet. Madrid defended well, they passed it well and they even had some half-decent counter-attacks too. Then when they had their chance, they took it, and that chance was of course a cross.
Tonight was so perfect for Zidane it’s like he scripted it.
Barcelona have been awful away from home in La Liga so far this season. They’ve played three games, drawing one and losing two. Yeah they’ve had some misfortune with opposing strikers scoring incredible goals they usually never would, but the thing is that when playing away they’ve shown none of the goalscoring power that has allowed them to twice concede two goals at home yet still win handsomely. This has dragged them down to eighth, and the one thing Barcelona fans had been consoling themselves with is that Real Madrid have also not been playing well this season. Then Los Blancos rocked up away to Sevilla and picked up all three points, this takes Madrid to 11 points, joint-top of the table with Athletic Club and four points ahead of Barcelona. Oh dear.