Zinedine Zidane said all along that he wasn’t worried. Despite Real Madrid’s uncharacteristically patchy start to the season, he has remained calm and positive throughout, insisting that he had total faith in his team’s ability to come good again.
On Saturday afternoon, the Frenchman’s faith was finally repaid. For pretty much the first time this season, everything clicked into place for Real Madrid.
They started the day level on points with their opponents Sevilla, and the visitors were in good form having won four of their previous five games. Hopes were high among the Sevilla faithful that they could emulate their city rivals Real Betis and get a result at the Bernabéu, particularly as the home side would be without the suspended Casemiro, Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos.
Despite missing those key players, and the influential Isco being relegated to the bench, Real Madrid suddenly looked a lot more like the team that stormed to the La Liga and Champions League double last season.
They took the lead after just three minutes, when Nacho took advantage of Luis Muriel’s wonderfully generous defending from a corner to put the ball past Sevilla keeper Sergio Rico. It was a great start for the champions, but they have scored early and failed to win before this season, most notably in the defeat to Girona.
Any lingering doubts about the home side’s ability to maintain their early lead were extinguished 20 minutes later, when Marco Asensio’s through ball arrived at the feet of the recently crowned Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo on the edge of the 18-yard box. It was exactly the sort of chance that you would expect Ronaldo to convert, but for one reason or another has seemed to elude him this season. On this occasion, he made no mistake, and stroked the ball confidently past Rico.
Eight minutes later, Ronaldo had his second, this time from the penalty spot following a ludicrous handball from Sevilla winger Jesús Navas. Fortune looked kindly on Ronaldo, as Rico guessed correctly but the ball somehow managed to squirm past him, giving the Portuguese forward only his fourth La Liga goal of the season, and putting his side in total command of this fixture.
With the floodgates now truly open, Toni Kroos was able to burst forward from midfield after Ronaldo had robbed Sevilla of possession in Madrid’s half, and play a one-two with Lucas Vázquez on the edge of the box before coolly finishing first time with his left foot.
With just 43 minutes gone, the home side made it 5-0. Young Moroccan right-back Achraf Hakimi, in for the suspended Carvajal, raced past Nolito to pick up Karim Benzema’s pass, took a touch, then finished beautifully from a tight angle.
The pre-game consensus that this would be a closely-fought game between two evenly matched competitors had been ripped to shreds by half-time. The ease with which Real Madrid tore into their Andalusian guests made the La Liga table that showed them level on points look like fake news.
As is so often the case when one side storms to a huge first-half lead, no further goals were added in the second half, although Benzema did come close when his header from Marcelo’s cross bounced back off the post.
It was a crucial win for Real Madrid, as their top-four rivals are showing no sign of letting up around them. All three of Barcelona, Valencia and Atlético Madrid won at the weekend, beating Villarreal, Celta de Vigo and Real Betis respectively. Real Madrid will now take an enforced break from La Liga to play in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, and while they are off chasing more silverware, their competitors at home could each add a further three points onto their lead over the champions.
But just as the three points were crucial to Real Madrid, the emphatic nature of the victory was just as important. This was the confidence boost their season needed, as even when they have won this season in La Liga, they have rarely looked convincing, and often looked nervy and short of ideas.
After the game, Zidane challenged his players to play like they did against Sevilla in every game from now on. Given that their next opponents in the league are Barcelona, his players would be wise to accept his challenge.