Real Madrid on top, Atletico beaten

20 January, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Real Madrid on top, Atletico beaten

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro celebrates his second goal during their La Liga match against Sevilla at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Saturday. AFP PHOTO

Real Madrid started without their top scorer, captain and record signing on Saturday but still they managed to claim a 2-1 win over Sevilla that sent them above top of La Liga.

Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard were absent at the Santiago Bernabeu while top scorer Karim Benzema introduced later part of the game but defensive-mid prodigy Casemiro stepped up in their place.

His first double as a Real player proved the difference amid a three-goal flurry in the second half, during which Luuk de Jong had briefly pulled Sevilla level.

“Two goals for him is very unusual,” said Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

His team were largely underwhelming, at times reverting to the stodgy days of last season when they struggled for goals under Julen Lopetegui, who was this time in the dug-out of Sevilla. Yet given those missing, the opposition and the performance, this might be the kind of victory that could prove crucial to Madrid winning the title in May.

“It makes the win even more important,” said Zidane. “It’s only three points but we needed them and we got them by suffering.”

Sevilla stay fourth, eight points off the top while Atletico Madrid in third are now the same margin behind after falling to a surprise 2-0 loss away at Eibar.

Zidane’s side are now 17 games unbeaten, a streak that included them winning the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia last weekend.

Ramos, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, paraded the club’s latest trophy on the pitch before kick-off.

Benzema came on in the second half after shaking off a dead leg but Ramos and Hazard need more time to recover. Gareth Bale was not even in the squad, despite training on Friday. Bale missed the trip to Jeddah through illness.

“He picked up a knock the other day,” said Zidane. “Only because of that.”

Lopetegui was back at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since he was sacked by Real last season, 138 days after they appointed him.

“I haven’t even stopped to think about it,” Lopetegui said. “The only emotion I wanted to feel is to win here.”

De Jong thought he had scored when he was given a suspicious amount of space in the area to head in from a corner and VAR showed his marker Eder Militao had been clearly blocked, albeit only by a small, but seemingly deliberate, step from Nemanja Gudelj.

Yet 12 minutes into the second half, some creative brilliance saw the hosts take the lead.