Angel Di Maria scored, Gareth Bale added another and Isco and Alvaro Morata found the net too as Real Madrid cantered to a 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Almeria at the Bernabeu on Saturday night.
However, arguably the loudest roar in the stadium arrived 10 minutes prior to kickoff when news filtered through to the fans inside the stadium that Barcelona had been beaten 1-0 in Granada—their second defeat in four days.
It must have provided a timely boost for a patched-up Madrid’s title aspirations.
Already denied the services of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo, Sami Khedira and Jese Rodriguez, Madrid added also Sergio Ramos’ name late to that absentee list in the build-up to Almeria’s visit to the Spanish capital.
It’s certainly not presumptuous to say that six of those players would probably be starters in Carlo Ancelotti’s favoured line-up.
With the nugget of climbing into second place though, a re-jigged Blancos side never looked like dropping points against a visiting side that didn’t manage to register their first shot on target until the 65th minute.
And from the off, it was Di Maria, who has recently suffered from gastroenteritis, not Bale, who led the Madrid charge.
He thumped the bar inside the first four minutes, then after seven minutes, he cut in from the right and drew a good save from Esteban Suarez as he launched a one-man tirade on the Almeria back line in the opening stages.
Cutting in from the left next, he forced Esteban into another fine stop with eight minutes still not showing on the clock.
The warnings were all there, but Almeria didn’t heed them.
With the 30-minute mark approaching and the game still goalless, it was no surprise that it was the sizzling Di Maria who at last broke the deadlock: Driving in from the right again this time, he caressed his 10th goal of the season into the corner.
After excelling in a central midfield role for large parts of the season, the 26-year-old was back in a more advanced position for this match, although in truth he was popping up in all different areas, and he was clearly enjoying himself.
He found time in the second half to try a rabona cross, which he must be close to trademarking, while in the first half he had cheekily attempted to score directly from a corner—Esteban switched on just in time to make the save.
All in all, it was a swashbuckling performance from Di Maria—he was also involved in the build-up to Bale’s goal, linking well with Karim Benzema—as he showed no signs of feeling sorry for himself after his penalty miss against Borussia Dortmund before being substituted for Casemiro.
The three points hops Madrid above Barca, and with a favourable run-in, you’d have to imagine they’re unlikely to relinquish that position now.
Catching Atletico Madrid, whom they are currently level with having played a game more, will prove more difficult though—their fellow city-dwellers can afford to lose a game and still win the title, due to their superior head-to-head record.
With Di Maria in form, though, as well as all the other weapons Madrid possess, they will hope to take it to the final day of the season, when Atleti travel to Camp Nou.
It’s strange, given Di Maria’s form this season—he’s been one of the club’s top five performers—that media outlets such as Mundo Deportivo, per Football Espana, are still unconvinced whether he has a future with Madrid.
Besides offering versatility, he’s offered quality throughout the season, and letting him go in the summer would be foolish.