Cristiano Ronaldo bags brace, Real clear Sevilla hurdle to stay in pole position
Real Madrid carved out a 4-1 victory over an injury-depleted Sevilla, who lost Mudo Vazquez in the warm-up and were forced to throw on Michael Krohn-Dehli for his first appearance in more than a year since he recovered from a fractured kneecap. A Cristiano Ronaldo brace and goals from Nacho and Toni Kroos sealed a win that was less comfortable than the scoreline suggests, with Stevan Jovetic unlucky to leave the Bernabeu with just a single strike in reply.
Real tightened their grip on the Liga title against a side who beat them 2-1 in the return fixture, and although Sevilla had plenty of chances, Keylor Navas and the woodwork denied the visitors greater reward. Nacho's opportunist free kick ensured that Real became the first side in the history of Europe's "big five" leagues to score in 62 consecutive games.
In the first half, Sevilla threatened to score on every foray forward, and Danilo continues to be the weakest link in any variation of Real's first-choice back line. Zinedine Zidane lost Nacho for the Celta Vigo game next Wednesday after the bizarre issue of a yellow for the defender being shoved.
8 (out of 10) -- Zidane flexed his tactical muscle against Jorge Sampaoli by playing Cristiano Ronaldo through the middle in what was effectively a 4-1-4-1 with Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio doubling up on Nicolas Pareja in the first half. The Real boss reacted to Sevilla's second-half rally with a double substitution and identified the need for Toni Kroos to provide extra cover for Danilo.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Had his hands warmed early and was grateful to see a Jovetic belter ricochet off his post. Two good saves kept Real in business when the game was in the balance, and although he was stranded for Jovetic's chip onto the bar, Navas couldn't do much about the Montenegrin striker's goal.
DF Danilo, 5 -- The majority of Sevilla's chances originated on Danilo's flank. The Brazilian lost Jovetic and was grateful to Navas for bailing him out, and he stood off Vitolo in the buildup to Sevilla's goal. Danilo looks fine going forward, but his defensive deficiencies are too frequent to warrant regular starts.
DF Sergio Ramos, 7 -- A solid defensive display from the captain was epitomised by a lung-bursting covering challenge on Joaquin Correa in the second half. Ramos was consistently in the right place at the right time.
DF Raphael Varane, 9 -- Matched his partner's haul of two aerial clearances and three tackles in a commanding display underlined by two statistics: Varane did not misplace a single pass or miss a single tackle in 90 impeccable minutes.
DF Nacho, 9 -- Opened the scoring with a cheeky free kick, firing a low shot past Sergio Rico while Sevilla were still protesting the foul on Asensio. Nacho's crossing ability is often overlooked, but he hit several inviting balls and bagged an assist on Kroos' strike.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 7 -- Left the pitch to an ovation after a combative performance in the anchor role. Kovacic has stepped up when required this season and was everywhere he needed to be against a packed Sevilla midfield.
MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- One of the few professional footballers who must look at the team sheet hoping for a day off. Kross has played more than any of his teammates this season and continues to amaze with his passing accuracy (96 percent), positional discipline and ability to stroke in a goal, as he did with a beautifully placed outside-of-the-boot effort.
MF Marco Asensio, 9 -- Excellent early on and a constant threat, Asensio has an engine to back up his undoubted skill. Started the move for the second goal and played a beautiful ball to Kroos to tee up Ronaldo for the third. Liverpool reportedly had a €50 million bid laughed off recently. It won't be long before Asensio is worth double that.
MF James Rodriguez, 6 -- A shot parried by Sergio Rico opened the door for Real's second, but James was fairly anonymous otherwise. Applauded by the Bernabeu on his withdrawal, he reciprocated with the air of a man drinking in the atmosphere for a final time.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- Ronaldo scored his 400th Real Madrid goal with a tap-in -- cue Twitter mirth -- then displayed astonishing technique to hammer in a Kroos pull-back with an unstoppable shot that calmed the Bernabeu's nerves.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- Full of running but rarely incisive, Morata couldn't find his feet on the left and was sacrificed on the hour mark with little more than a yellow card to show for his evening's work.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- On for James to shore things up, Sevilla faded with the Brazilian on patrol in midfield.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- On for Morata, Vazquez was as lively as ever and did his bit to put Sevilla on the back foot.
MF Luka Modric, NR -- On for Kovacic to add a bit of structure to the midfield, Modric was immaculate and found time for a glorious little touch to tee up a chance for Vazquez.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.