Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Real Madrid recover from slow start to beat Osasuna and extend La Liga lead over Barcelona

A 4-1 win in Pamplona was the ideal response from Zidane's side after the Copa del Rey exit

epa08206093 Real Madrid's Luka Jovic (C) celebrates with teammates Federico Valverde (L) and Vinicius Junior (R) after scoring the 4-1 lead during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between CA Osasuna and Real Madrid at El Sadar stadium in Pamplona, northern Spain, 09 February 2020. EPA/JESUS DIGES
epa08206093 Real Madrid's Luka Jovic (C) celebrates with teammates Federico Valverde (L) and Vinicius Junior (R) after scoring the 4-1 lead during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between CA Osasuna and Real Madrid at El Sadar stadium in Pamplona, northern Spain, 09 February 2020. EPA/JESUS DIGES

Real Madrid cast off the disappointment of their elimination from the Copa del Rey to remain the lords of La Liga on Sunday.

A fifth league victory in succession, in hostile Pamplona, keeps Barcelona’s chasers at bay, and will embolden Zinedine Zidane’s efficient unit, with Manchester City’s Champions League visit to the Bernabeu now barely a fortnight away.

Goals from Isco, Sergio Ramos and the substitutes Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic gave the scoreline a mildly flattering look, because for the first 20 minutes Osasuna had not only lived as equals with Madrid but genuinely worried them.

Osasuna began with the idea that Madrid, whose 21-match unbeaten run came to an end last Thursday in their 4-3 Copa del Rey quarter-final loss to Real Sociedad, might be vulnerable to ambush. They targeted the visitors with aggression and a strategy to shift the ball quickly behind Madrid’s full-backs.

The thinking was wise, the execution sound and even before Osasuna had taken their lead, Madrid had survived a series of close shaves. Within the first two minutes, Nacho Vidal whistled an ambitious angled drive just past Thibaut Courtois’s right-hand post.

Soon afterwards, Courtois, scrambling across his six-yard line to keep up with a tenacious zig-zag run that had taken Ruben Garcia from outside left to a shooting position, made a crucial intervention.

Osasuna also overcame an early setback, Jon Moncayola limping off, and maintained their initial vigour. The goal came about from their urgency, the corner that led to it earned by the lively Pervis Estupinan, his effort deflected wide. From the corner, Ruben Garcia aimed for Unai Garcia, and, via the defender’s brave, stooping header, Osasuna led. Brave because the scorer put his face and forehead right where Casemiro was dangling a boot.

Madrid responded by imposing their more measured approach, although it took them a while. There was some rustiness about, notably in Gareth Bale, playing his first Liga match for over a month, and the usual extended uncertainty about his future through the January transfer window.

Bale was busy, but one miscue, giving away possession, told of his shortage of match practice. Nor he could gently settle himself in, not with the crowd animated for the annual visit of the most glamorous club in La Liga, or with Estupinan manning Bale’s right-flank, or at 1-0 down.

Bale would have a role in the equaliser, more for his determination than careful plotting but it was his touch that gave Isco the chance to lean into a volley, striking it sweetly and beyond goalkeeper Sergio Herrera’s possible reach.

The keeper would be let down by his defenders five minutes later, conceding the sort of goal that has featured heavily in Madrid’s playbook this season: a corner, and a goal from a defender. This one, nodded in by Sergio Ramos, had been teed up for him by a Casemiro header.

Ramos had in the lead-up been involved in a confrontation with a clutch of Osasuna men. Being Sergio Ramos, he wanted the last word in the squabble. Here was the captain once again turning his side’s fortunes around. It was not the toughest goal he has ever scored, though.

The feisty character of the contest carried into the second half. A sharp reaction from Herrera prevented Isco adding to his tally. Zidane’s de luxe substitutions - Lucas for Bale, Vincius Junior for Isco - were designed to play on Osausna’s growing fatigue and the goal that ensured Madrid’s full share of the points came from the livewire options the wingers offered.

A Luka Modric pass gave Karim Benzema, released through the middle, a choice of passing to Vinicius to his left or Lucas to his right. He elected Lucas, whose firm shot squirmed through Herrera’s attempted save.

The goal for Jovic was a bonus for Zidane. The striker has not made great impact since his summer transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt, and he was given only a few moments to join in this victory. But his volleyed goal, having only just come on, is a handsome souvenir.

Updated: February 9, 2020 09:54 PM

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