Real Madrid 3-1 Real Zaragoza: Jose Mourinho's men get back to winning
After the tasty drama of their midweek Supecopa action Real Madrid returned to their La Liga bread and butter on Saturday night with a familiarly comprehensive 3-1 win over Real Zaragoza at the Santiago Bernabéu.
As so often at home this season, Madrid conceded early and did not convince defensively, but their attacking power saw them easily home in the end. Ángel Lafita capitalised on poor marking to open the scoring for the Primera Division’s bottom side Zaragoza, but without really ever getting out of second gear Madrid ran out comfortable winners through strikes from Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo (his 24th league goal of the season) and man of the match Mesut Özil (his first).
The game came after a testing week for Madrid's coach José Mourinho, with whistles from his own fans, dressing room disharmony, an apparent threat to quit and a photo of him waiting in the Camp Nou car-park to speak with referee Teixeira Vitienes after his side crashed out of the Copa del Rey to bitter rivals Barcelona last Wednesday.
Mourinho had since kept a low profile, and he again sent assistant Aitor Karanka to speak after the game. “The team was maybe not as good as we hoped,” Karanka said. “But we are very content with the win.”
Mourinho made five changes to the team which drew 2-2 at the Camp Nou in Wednesday’s stirring second leg draw with Barca, with Karim Benzema coming in up front, Esteban Granero in midfield and Hamit Altintop and Ricardo Carvalho - both last seen in Madrid’s limp display in the 2-1 Copa first leg defeat - returning in defence.
Visiting coach Manolo Jimenéz showed his priorities by leaving out top-scorer Helder Postiga as a yellow card would rule him out of next week’s crucial relegation clash with Rayo Vallecano.
Mourinho’s rejigged defence failed its first test on ten minutes. Postiga’s replacement Carlos Aranda got down the side of Carvalho and crossed for Lafita to tap in with Pepe nowhere near. Madrid had gone behind at the Bernabéu already this season to Rayo Vallecano, Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao and won all those games, so nobody inside the Bernabéu - not even the Zaragoza players - really sensed an upset was on the cards.
As Madrid dominated possession, Granero tried to force the pace - with a penalty claim which was turned down and a 25 yard shot which sailed high and wide. Özil teed up Benzema near the penalty spot, but the French international was not having a good night and miscued his shot under pressure.
Kaká gradually came more into the game, sliding a tidy pass for Marcelo to chase, back-heading Özil’s free kick just wide and then shanking an excellent chance well wide after the full-back had again got forward. The Brazilian soon had his goal - running free down the right channel onto a precise Carvalho long ball. Roberto got a hand to the shot but could not keep it out.
That did not completely settle Madrid. Pepe lost the ball in midfield and a linesman’s flag saved his blushes. Carvalho and Altintop both looked short of match practice, and after nice work from Luis García, Iván Obradovic crossed and Aranda sent a free header off target.
As is usual Madrid came out fired up after half-time and there were immediate loud penalty claims when Kaká tumbled in the box. These turned to cheers just two minutes later when Granero cleverly spread the ball wide for Özil and his curving cross was tapped in at the far post by Ronaldo.
The German turned scorer soon afterwards, linking well with Kaká and then lashing the ball in at the near post from a tight angle. With the game decided the pace dropped again. Ronaldo thought he had won a penalty after Özil’s flick sent him clear, but referee Iturralde González said no. Nobody except the Portuguese was too worried, Madrid had their three points and remain on course for the La Liga title.
A more concerning outcome of the game was potential injuries picked up by Xabi Alonso and Marcelo. Karanka said there was no immediate medical report, but Madrid would surely need to utilise their squad over the coming games. “We have a very good squad with lots of competition for places,” Karanka said. “Nuri Sahin is working very hard and will get a chance. Kaká scored again. Özil is getting back to the level of last season.”
The defeat leaves Real Zaragoza rooted to the bottom of the Primera División without a win in four months but coach Manolo Jimenéz said he was proud of his players’ efforts in coming to the Bernabéu and causing Madrid problems. “The second goal was offside, but they had lots of chances, I am not complaining,” said Jimenéz. “We do not meet Real Madrid every game. If we have that attitude in all our games we will get out of the hole we are in.”