Madrid stroll to comfortable 4-0 win over Sevilla thanks to Navas heroics
Real Madrid emerged comfortable 4-0 victors against Sevilla on Sunday in a performance that went some way to appeasing those in the stands. Unai Emery's side were severely weakened by the absence of five first-team regulars -- Ever Banega, Vitolo, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Steven N'Zonzi and Yevhen Konoplyanka -- leading the Sevilla boss to err on the side of caution with a 4-4-1-1 formation spearheaded by in-form striker Kevin Gameiro.
Had the Frenchman scored from the spot in the first half, Real may have wavered, particularly as Sergio Ramos and Pepe were suspended, but Zinedine Zidane's side imposed themselves in the second period to chalk up a notable victory. Sevilla are still without a win on the road this season but have not conceded more than three goals away from home all season, allowing Barcelona just the two at Camp Nou.
Goals from Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo -- who took his tally against Sevilla to 22 -- Gareth Bale and Jese sealed victory. Other than replacing Nacho and Raphael Varane, the side that Zidane selected on Sunday may well line up against Barcelona after the international break.
Results this weekend went Real's way. Zidane's side will go into El Clasico as title outsiders still, but just one point behind Atletico and 10 adrift of Barca after Luis Enrique's side were held by Villarreal. It's a long shot, but a Clasico victory will put the cat among the pigeons with eight games remaining.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Keylor Navas, 10 -- If Real get anything out of this season, Navas will be handed the keys to the city. A smart save from Sergio Escudero early on at his near post was backed by a penalty save from Gameiro at 1-0. In the second half, Navas pulled off another great stop to deny the prolific Frenchman, also making a carbon copy save from Escudero and an excellent stop from Gameiro at the end of the game. Impeccable.
DF Danilo, 7 -- Appears to have made himself Zidane's first-choice right-back. The Brazilian got forward when the chance arose, but was deputy to Marcelo on the far flank in the attacking pecking order. Perhaps just as well, as Danilo's final ball still leaves a little to be desired. However, after an inauspicious start to his Real career under Zidane, Danilo deserves credit for knuckling down and coming out on top. Found Ronaldo with a good low cross for Real's second.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Isn't and probably never will be first choice at Real, and it seems a shame he is destined to assume Alvaro Arbeloa's mantle as the utility man. Nacho was quick to cover the lines, got in the way of everything that needed getting in the way of and didn't really put a foot wrong.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 -- Picked up a yellow and conceded a penalty for an unnecessary shirt pull on Adil Rami. However, the future of Real's defence used his pace and positioning sense to cover Sevilla's running throughout the game.
DF Marcelo, 8 -- The Brazilian is not only Real's most obvious candidate for overlapping runs, he also racks up some impressive statistics in terms of recoveries in the opposition half. Marcelo was excellent going forward as is the norm, sending in a few fizzing crosses, but he also kept the opposition on the back foot with seven tackles and three interceptions.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- His set-piece delivery was a constant threat and the German international did what he does, keeping possession ticking over in the middle with a 94-percent pass completion rate.
MF Casemiro, 8 -- Four aerial duels won, six successful tackles, 95 percent of his passes on target; you can't help wondering what might have been had Rafa Benitez backed up his summer insistence with more pitch time for the Brazilian. Casemiro is making another spell on the bench very hard to justify. Picked up a silly yellow for a challenge on Jose Antonio Reyes but the ovation on his substitution said it all.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- Fairly contained but even at slightly below par, the Croatian is still Real's driving force. Modric was active at both ends of the pitch, winning a penalty in the second half with a typically determined run. Most players would have gone to ground a lot earlier.
FW Gareth Bale, 8 -- Bale was lively all evening, putting in a nice cross for Benzema's goal and carving out a chance for himself on the quarter-hour mark, hitting the post. An acrobatic overhead, a disallowed goal, a header that rattled the bar and a tap-in to get on the score sheet were the highlights of a performance that suggests Bale is on the verge of his best again.
FW Karim Benzema, 9 -- A glorious strike for the opener showed that Benzema is not carrying any rust after his injury layoff. The Frenchman was active in build-up play, providing a delicious reverse pass for Marcelo and teeing up Bale with a cross-field pass. A wonderful instinctive assist for Bale's goal might have been an attempted chip over the keeper but it looked good anyway, as the Frenchman did on his return to the fold, crucially making Real look sharper collectively in attack.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 -- A nice run and shot on in the first half drew a good save from Sergio Rico but this was a bit of a slumped-shoulders-and-arms-in-the-air performance from the Portuguese, who missed a penalty in the second half, blazing high over the bar. Ronaldo hit the net from-point blank range from Danilo's cross and tested Rico a couple of times, also setting up a few chances for his teammates. But in a game in which Real peppered the Sevilla goal with 26 attempts, Ronaldo will have expected more.
FW Jese, 7 -- On for Bale with 20 minutes to go, Jese scored the fourth and is looking like Real's 12th man again as Isco and James Rodriguez slide down Zidane's list. Jese has two goals and two assists in 51 minutes in his past three appearances.
MF James Rodriguez, NR -- Has lost the confidence of Zidane, the fans and apparently himself. On for Casemiro with 15 to go, James played a decent through ball for Danilo with his first touch but then disappeared.
MF Isco, NR -- On for Benzema, Isco is also seeking a path to redemption. The Spain international displayed his patented close control in tight situations, but also the increasingly frustrating tendency to lose the ball eventually with one touch too many.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.