Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid: 6 Things We Learned
With both of their title rivals winning earlier in the day, Real Madrid knew they had to take all three points from their trip to San Sebastian to take on Real Sociedad.
The first half was relatively even, but Asier Illarramendi’s goal on the stroke of half-time gave Madrid a lead that they then bolstered with second-half goals from Gareth Bale, Pepe and Alvaro Morata. Real Sociedad only sporadically threatened the away goal in what was eventually a comfortable victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Here are six things we learned from Real Madrid’s 4-0 win away to Real Sociedad.
Illarramendi Enjoys Happy Return
Saturday was Asier Illarramendi’s first return to the Anoeta since his move to Madrid last summer. He marked the occasion with a goal, opening the scoring from close range after Karim Benzema’s shot had been well-saved by Claudio Bravo.
Illarramendi, who came up through the ranks at Real Sociedad before joining Real Madrid last summer in a deal worth more than €32 million, was booed every time he touched the ball but still elected not to celebrate his goal.
The 24-year-old has yet to make much of an impact at Madrid and was relatively quiet in general on Saturday, but he will hope to use his goal as a springboard to improved performances in the remainder of the campaign.
Real Madrid Can Cope Without Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has been suffering from a minor knee injury in recent weeks, and after a few tired performances, Carlo Ancelotti finally made the decision, as per AS, to rest Ronaldo for Saturday’s match.
The manager had previously appeared reticent to rest his star player, playing him in the essentially meaningless second leg of their Champions League tie with Schalke in the round of 16, giving him a full 90 minutes against Rayo Vallecano and delaying his substitution against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, despite the fact Ronaldo was clearly struggling.
He need not have been so hesitant. Madrid had won six and drawn one of the seven previous matches without Ronaldo this season, as per Marca, and again got the job done on Saturday, recovering from a lapsed start to overpower their hosts in the second half.
Ronaldo is the sort of player who wants to play every minute of every match, but by giving him rest when appropriate, Ancelotti can ensure his top scorer is in good shape for Madrid’s most important remaining fixtures.
Pepe and Sergio Ramos Prove Adept in the Air
From the opening minute, Real Sociedad looked to get out wide and put crosses into the area, often from diagonal positions. It was a clearly a preconceived strategy, but it was one that Real Madrid’s central defenders, Pepe and Sergio Ramos, proved equal to.
Real Sociedad created few clear-cut opportunities from their numerous deliveries of this nature. Antoine Griezmann went close with a flicked header from a Carlos Vela cross during the first half, but that was as close as the home side came to scoring.
As per Squawka, Pepe and Ramos made a total of 12 successful clearances from inside the penalty area, standing firm and playing a big role in their team’s clean sheet.
They capped off an impressive performance by combining for Madrid’s third goal, with Ramos heading down a corner for Pepe to sweep home.
Carlo Ancelotti will hope they can perform to the same level on Tuesday in the second leg of Madrid’s Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund.
Gareth Bale Is on a Hot Streak
Gareth Bale has enjoyed a solid first season in Madrid following his big-money move from Tottenham Hotspur but has really begun to show his true worth in recent weeks, recovering from poor performances against Barcelona and Sevilla to score in each of his last three appearances.
He did not make much of an impact in the early exchanges of Saturday’s match, but he sprang to life following his move to the left side of the Madrid attack on the half hour, using his pace and power to directly attack Real Sociedad right-back Carlos Martinez.
Bale provided a lovely scooped pass to Karim Benzema in the buildup to the first goal and then scored the second, controlling a mishit clearance from home goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and firing crisply into the bottom corner of the net from long range.
Carlo Ancelotti will hope the thigh injury Bale looked to be carrying prior to his late substitution is only a minor knock, because the Welshman’s attributes are tailor-made for the counterattacking style that Madrid are likely to utilise against Dortmund on Tuesday.
Goalkeeper Rotation Is Causing Problems for Madrid
Real Madrid have rotated their goalkeepers throughout the campaign, with Diego Lopez playing in the league and Iker Casillas taking up the role for Champions League and Copa del Rey matches.
They are two goalkeepers with different styles: Casillas is more proactive, while Lopez is a more sedentary custodian. Just four days after Casillas had kept goal in the Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund, there were unsurprisingly a couple of examples of miscommunication between Lopez and those in front of him on Saturday evening.
Pepe conceded a needless corner early on in the first half with Lopez well-placed to claim behind him, while on another occasion, Lopez came out to claim a high ball into the area only to have it headed away from in front of him, which led to a shot on target that was well-blocked by Asier Illarramendi. Such indecision could have proved more costly.
Carlo Ancelotti is highly unlikely to make such a decision at this late stage of the season, but he should be giving serious consideration to ending the rotation and electing a true first-choice goalkeeper for the remainder of the campaign.
Champions League Repeat Difficult for Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad came into the match six points behind local rivals Athletic Bilbao in the race for the final Champions League qualifying spot and will now be praying that Levante do them a favour on Sunday to prevent that gap from increasing.
“This is the kind of game you can play well and end up losing,” coach Jagoba Arrasate warned, as per AS, in his pre-match press conference, but despite some promising moments, his side did not threaten regularly enough to consider themselves unfortunate on this particular occasion.
Realistically, La Real need to win each of their six remaining matches, including a trip to Bilbao, if they hope to match last year’s top-four finish. They remain a good side, with forwards Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela being particularly impressive, but are too prone to defensive errors to suggest another high finish is likely.