Sitting top of La Liga with a two-point cushion is a great feeling – it looked as though it would be a feeling that Real Madrid would be experiencing following their headline match-up with Sevilla on Sunday night.
But, after Vinicius Jr’s stunning match-winner to earn a massive 2-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti’s men now boast a four-point cushion above the teams looking up at them. Imagine how that feels.
On what was a mammoth occasion in the Spanish top flight, the winners of that heavyweight contest would be guaranteed top spot heading into matchday 16. The losers, on the other hand, would go home bitterly disappointed.
It turned out to be a night for celebration in the Real Madrid camp. It was a tough battle, an even contest and, at times, quite an ugly performance. But, approaching the midway point of the campaign, they now look title favourites with a chasing pack behind them.
The impressive thing about their win over Julen Lapetegui’s side was the sheer resilience and persistence on show. In truth, it was an underwhelming and disappointing performance from many of their stars throughout the first half and beyond.
Luka Modric and Toni Kroos lacked their usual precision and penetration in build up play, Casemiro was criminally sloppy and Marco Asensio was largely absent despite his strong form heading into the fixture – there was a blatant lack of general intensity and thrust, which invited their talented opposition to the table.
As a result, the collective powerhouse that is Sevilla looked, for large parts, the better team. Meriting their early 1-0 lead through Rafa Mir, the visiting side should have been 3-0 up by half-time after seeing efforts cleared off the line and crashing against the crossbar.
Instead, the composure and mentality of Real Madrid’s squad shone through as Karim Benzema equalised before the break. Thereafter, the ship looked increasingly steadied. The regaining of control in central areas stifled Sevilla’s blisteringly quick attacking moves, while a mixture of added vigour from both starting players and substitutes allowed the hosts to dominate the latter stages.
Eder Militao and David Alaba’s tendency to quickly distribute the ball helped the hosts break down their visitors, while the willingness to ask questions of Sevilla in attacking areas changed the game in the second half. Benzema was typically influential, while the likes of Modric, Vinicius Jr and Eduardo Camavinga all contributed to a more dynamic style of play.
Facing up against a Sevilla side holding out for what would have been a crucial point, Real eventually wore their opposition down and found a winner via a moment of magic from Vinicius. His rocket into Bono’s top corner was jaw-dropping and just reward for incessant witling down, measured approach play and concentrated defending after a rough first period.
It is a cliché, but let me say it: champions win games, even when playing badly.
Sunday night handed Real a daunting task. They could have easily lost to a great Sevilla team and handed over the initiative in what is developing into an intriguing title race, or they could have bolstered their own chances.
Well, after 15 matches played in the 2021/22 La Liga campaign, Ancelotti and his men sit four points clear of the three teams below them and look an unbeatable force – even when playing badly against their closest challengers. It’s what champions are made of.