Real Madrid shrugged off the absence of superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo, keeping pace in the La Liga title race with a 4-0 victory at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening.
Asier Illarramendi opened the scoring for Madrid, tapping in a rebound just before half-time. Gareth Bale doubled the lead midway through the second half, taking advantage of a miscue by Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Real then killed off the game with late goals from Pepe and substitute Alvaro Morata.
The victory took Madrid onto 76 points, three points behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind second-placed Barcelona.
"It was very difficult for us," Illarramendi said, per Inside Spanish Football. "After the second goal the game was over and we took advantage of the spaces."
Ronaldo did not play for Real Madrid, missing out with a knee injury. In his absence, manager Carlo Ancelotti started Isco on the left side of Real Madrid's attack, with Bale on the right and Karim Benzema in the middle.
The result will give Madrid momentum heading into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund. Madrid won the first leg 3-0 at home.
In addition, the victory over Real Sociedad—who beat Barcelona 3-1 at home last month—should give Carlo Ancelotti's side confidence heading into the stretch run.
"It was a good contest. I am very happy. I have a team who likes to fight and I’m proud to coach this team," Ancelotti said, per Inside Spanish Football. "The victory strengthens the team’s resolve. We are on a good run of form. We are behind in the standings, but we will fight until the end."
The visitors struggled to generate chances in the opening stages as Sociedad created the better openings.
Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez made a fine save from close range on Carlos Vela, keeping out the Mexican international's volley from a Real Sociedad corner. The save did not count, though, as Vela was ruled offside.
Sociedad came close again six minutes later as Antoine Griezmann sent a looping header over the bar from Vela's cross. The hosts appealed for a handball on Illarramendi in the 43rd minute after the Madrid midfielder blocked a shot, but replays showed Illarra had trapped the ball with his abdomen.
Real Madrid then went ahead on the stroke-of-half-time goal. Bravo saved Benzema's initial shot from the left, but the rebound fell to Illarra, who tapped in with a first-touch volley from close range. Illarramendi, who came through Sociedad's youth system before joining Madrid in 2013, did not celebrate against his former club.
Madrid had a big chance to double their lead in the 48th minute. Xabi Alonso curled in a free kick from the right and Sergio Ramos met it with a powerful header, but the ball cannoned off the crossbar and the score remained 1-0.
Alonso tested Bravo with a curling free kick from outside the box in the 57th minute but Bravo moved across his line to punch the ball away. After Bale received treatment for a gashed knee in the 60th minute, Alonso tried again four minutes later but this time curled his free kick over the bar.
Benzema rattled the crossbar again in the 65th minute, blasting a powerful left-footed strike off the woodwork from outside the box. One minute later, Madrid finally found their second goal after a gaffe by Bravo.
Holding the ball near the edge of his own box, Bravo scuffed poor clearance straight at Bale, who had just returned to the pitch after receiving treatment for his knee. Controlling with his first touch, Bale scored with a swerving drive into the bottom corner as Bravo scrambled in vain to get back into position.
Benzema rolled a shot just wide of the post in the 69th minute as Madrid looked to kill off the match. At the other end, Griezmann forced a save from Lopez with a low shot in the 83rd minute.
But that was as close as Sociedad came to pulling back a goal in the second half. Instead Real Madrid killed off the game with two more late goals.
Pepe grabbed Madrid's third in the 85th minute, sweeping in after Ramos rose highest to head back a corner across the box. Morata then made it 4-0, slotting past Bravo on the break after being freed by Angel Di Maria's incisive through pass.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings vs. Real Sociedad|
|Angel Di Maria (for Isco, 81')||N/A||8|
|Alvaro Morata (for Bale, 86')||N/A||8|
|Casemiro (for Alonso, 88')||N/A||6|
Real Sociedad play at Celta Vigo in the league next Saturday.
Real Madrid play at Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday. Madrid won the first leg 3-0. The Blancos return to the league next Saturday with a home match against Almeria.