Real Madrid Win Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Show La Liga Race Is Still on

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

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Real Madrid showed their title credentials by winning the most difficult fixture left in their league schedule without star man Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portugal star was rested because of a knee problem but Madrid filled their boots in his stead.

Some believe Ronaldo’s rest signifies the club have given up on the title and are trying to win the Champions League and achieve “La Decima,” but perhaps Madrid wanted to ensure the injury does not become worse and hamper him during the La Liga run in.

Spain’s most successful side are still the outside bet because they are three points behind neighbours Atletico Madrid and two off archrivals Barcelona, but they had enough about them on this tricky visit to Anoeta to suggest they will be in the race until as late as possible.

Illarramendi opened the scoring against his former side.
Illarramendi opened the scoring against his former side.Alvaro Barrientos

With neither Barcelona nor Atletico immune to slip-ups, as shown by results this season like the former's 3-2 home defeat by Valencia and the latter's 4-0 crumbling at Osasuna, all Madrid can do is keep winning.

Travelling to face Real Sociedad is rarely easy and the Basque side gave Madrid a good game, but eventually ended up losing 3-0 thanks to goals from Asier Illarramendi, Gareth Bale, defender Pepe’s fourth league goal of the season and Alvaro Morata.

It took a wonderful low drive from Bale to put the game beyond Jagoba Arrasate's men, after Illarramendi opened the scoring against his former side by shinning home from close range.

Isco stepped into the team to replace Ronaldo and Illarramendi came in for Angel di Maria, who has also been excellent this term but could not play, as he has been suffering from gastroenteritis.

The latter put in a good display, ignoring mean-spirited chants from Sociedad fans and not celebrating after his goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo was rested because of his knee problem.
Cristiano Ronaldo was rested because of his knee problem.Clive Rose/Getty Images

It showed how strong Real Madrid's squad is, that they can lose two of their three best players this season and still win away at Sociedad.

The third of those players was Luka Modric, who has been pulling the strings this season for Carlo Ancelotti.

Gareth Bale arguably produced one of the biggest moments of his short career in a Real Madrid shirt when he capitalised on a poor clearance by Claudio Bravo and brutally lashed a strike home from 30 yards.

Ancelotti said in his press conference before the game, on Friday, as per Inside Spanish Football:

We’re giving him a rest because we have other important games. We’ll leave him at home so he can train and be ready for Tuesday’s game, so he can recover better from the burden of the games he’s played. I spoke with him and we both decided it was best for him to rest, though we all know he always wants to play.

Even if Ronaldo doesn’t play on Tuesday against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League—at 3-0 up from the first leg there’s no real reason to risk him—he will return for the home game against Almeria next weekend.

They will be missing midfielder Xabi Alonso, who picked up a booking which rules him out of that game.

He will be fit and fresh for the next game—a mouth-watering Copa del Rey final against rivals Barcelona.

Ancelotti knows he has to improve his record in Real Madrid’s big games. So far this season his team have lost to Barcelona twice and drawn with and lost once to Atletico.

That is not acceptable for a team of Madrid’s standing and there will be no better stage for the Italian to show his big-game credentials than in Valencia on April 16.

Between now and then, Madrid can keep things ticking over in the Champions League and La Liga while just waiting for their rivals to miss a step.

It may not come to pass, given the form of both Tata Martino and Diego Simeone’s sides, but stranger things have happened and it's always worth trying to keep the pace.