Real Madrid played Deportivo Alaves at their Castilla side’s stadium of Alfredo Di Stefano on Friday evening in the game that rounded of the 35th round of the 2019/20 La Liga season. The hosts were playing for the points to get away from Barcelona who came within a point in the title race, and Alaves came hoping for anything to help them secure top-flight survival, hanging just three points above Mallorca who topped the relegation zone.
Real boss Zinedine Zidane was without captain Sergio Ramos and right-back Dani Carvajal through suspension. Eden Hazard was believed to be out due to a reported recurrence of an ankle problem, but the former Chelsea winger made the bench.
Thibaut Courtois was in goal. Raphael Varane and Eder Militao paired up in the heart of defence, flanked by Lucas Vazquez on the right and Ferland Mendy on the left. Casemiro anchored the midfield, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in more advanced roles. Karim Benzema led the line upfront, supported by Rodrygo Goes and Marco Asensio from wide positions.
Juan Muniz in the away dugout was without his regular first-choice goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco and defender Ruben Duarte.
Roberto stood between the posts. Rodrigo Ely and Victor Laguardia formed the centre-back partnership, with Adrian Marin on the left and Ximo Navarro on the right. Ljubomir Fejsa and Victor Camarasa were tasked with the hard work in the middle of the park, with Oliver Burke and Edgar Mendez in wider roles. Joselu partnered Lucas Perez upfront.
The First Half
As expected, the hosts took control of the game and pushed forward from the start, but the first chance fell to the visitors in the third minute as Joselu’s header hit the crossbar following a good cross from the left. Then Perez sent the ball towards the net and was thwarted by Varane who cleared it off the very goal-line.
While the creativity of Modric, the pace of Rodrygo and the attacking threat of Benzema looked promising for Zidane’s team, the visitors mostly relied of Perez’s counterattacking skills. The Alaves striker had a very agile and focused-looking Militao against him.
There weren’t any clear-cut chances for either team before the 10th minute, when Mendy went forward and used his pace to get around Navarro coming in from the left and the Alaves defender tripped the Real left-back a few inches inside the box. Referee Jesus Gil was very decisive as he blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, and Benzema stepped up.
Real continued attacking and only two minutes after they took the lead, Kroos fired one from the edge of the box and it went just over the bar. The game slowed down for a while after that but only to liven up suddenly again in the 18th minute as Mendy played a nice one-two with Benzema and tried to find Kroos in the box. Camarasa intercepted the cross but Roberto was then forced to make a fine save from his own teammate to prevent and own-goal.
Alaves threatened from a set piece in the 21st minute through Eli, who jumped high to reach the cross from Perez, but he couldn’t direct his header on target under pressure.
Muniz was forced to withdraw Navarro immediately afterwards. The fullback got injured while battling Rodrygo for the ball, and Martin Aguirregabiria entered the fray.
As Real continued attacking, a chance opened up for Burke to hit back. The West Bromwich Albion loanee broke down the right, reached the box, cut inside and hit it low towards the far bottom corner, forcing an excellent save from Courtois. Burke caused danger again in the 35th minute, breaking on the same side and getting around Militao. He tried to pull it back towards the unmarked Perez at around 15 yards, but Joselu misread the pass and went for it himself, slid and scuffed the shot miles off target.
However, despite these occasional attacking bursts from Alaves, the balance of the game didn’t change at all. Real mostly defender very far away from their own goal, and it was interesting to see Kroos frequently join Benzema all the way upfront when pressing. But one thing those burst proved was that the visitors were prepared for such a situation, and Real weren’t nearly as comfortable as they would have liked.
On the other hand, Alaves mostly defender with a lot of bodies around the edge of their box. It was very hard for Real players, skilled as they are, to break through. Rodrygo and Asensio tried to do so repeatedly and were always crowded out.
There were five minutes of stoppage time in the first half, and Benzema had a chance to score his second of the evening with a low effort from the edge of the box, but Roberto had no problems stopping it.
The Second Half
The game continued much in the same way after the break. Real attacked most of the time, with Alaves looking for counterattacking opportunities which still came perhaps more frequently than expected.
In the 50th minute Real took full advantage of a rare moment when Alaves moved their back line further up. They broke clean through Benzema, who charged towards the goal and squared it for Asensio in the crucial moment. The winger found it very easy to put it in the net, only to see the linesman’s flag raised and hear the referee’s whistle. However, after VAR checked the situation, the goal was rightly allowed to stand.
Five minutes later, a double change for Alaves. Perez and Fejsa made was for Luis Rioja and Abdallahi Mahmoud. Burke moved further up and played alongside Joselu now, while Rioja took his place in midfield.
Nonetheless, Real almost added a third soon afterwards, but Roberto thwarted first Benzema and then Rodrygo, both from close range. Alaves soon hit back and Joselu managed to get a powerful shot off from just inside the box, but Courtois showed just as good as Roberto at the other end.
With 68 minutes gone, Joselu and Mendez made way for 22-year-old Jose Luis Rodriguez and Borja Sainz for Alaves. Zidane’s response was to introduce Fede Valverde for Modric and Vinicius Junior for Asensio.
Real had another good chance in the 75th minute. They broke into the box in numbers, but eventually Rodrygo’s shot from a tight angle was saved well by Roberto.
As the game entered its final 15 minutes, the resistance and resilience of the visitors seemed to be ebbing away. Their game plan was becoming less recognizable and Real had no difficulty in keeping things under control.
In the 82nd minute, Benzema made way for Eden Hazard, and Isco Alarcon came on to replace Rodrygo. Real’s formation now looked mostly like 4-1-4-1, with Hazard the man further upfront, though Vinicius occasionally moved up alongside the Belgian.
Isco’s first contribution to the contest came very soon, a curved effort from the left towards the far top corner, but Roberto had obviously been expecting it.
At the other end, Rodriguez tried his luck from wide in the final minute of the 90, straight at Courtois.
There were six added minutes, but no further excitements apart from a blocked attempt from Isco. Brahim Diaz then came on for Casemiro, but that was it.
It ended up being a routine and deserved victory for Los Blancos, despite the visitors having several very good chances. Alaves put in a brave fight, but they weren’t really a match for the team which now has a four-point advantage over arch-rivals Barcelona again.
Real have now come very close to securing the title. Three matches remain for them to play, against Granada, Villarreal and Leganes, and they would have to stumble in at least two of them for the Catalans to have any chance of a late upset.
As for Alaves, their battle against relegation continues and they will be looking to get at least something from their own remaining games. It won’t be easy – they face Getafe, Real Betis and Barcelona.
REAL MADRID: Courtois 7.5, Varane 7, Militao 7.5, Vazquez 7, Mendy 7.5, Casemiro 7 (90′ Diaz N/A), Kroos 7, Modric 7.5 (70′ Valverde), Rodrygo 7 (82′ Isco), Asensio 7 (70′ Vinicius), Benzema 7.5 (82′ Hazard).
ALAVES: Roberto 7.5, Ely 6, Laguardia 6.5, Navarro 6 (24′ Aguirregabiria 6.5), Marin 6, Fejsa 4 (55′ Mahmoud 5), Camarasa 6, Burke 7, Mendez 4 (68′ Sainz 7), Joselu 6 (69′ Rodriguez 5), Perez 7 (55′ Rioja 5) .
GOALS: Benzema (P) 11′, Asensio 50′.
YELLOW CARDS: Mahmoud 83′.
REFEREE: Jesus Gil.
DATE & VENUE: July 10, 2020, Alfredo Di Stefano, Madrid.
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