Ronaldo, Real punish Celta, now just one point from clinching the title
Real Madrid took one giant step toward another La Liga title with a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo at Balaidos. Cristiano Ronaldo's finishing and Celta's obvious exhaustion as the match went along made the difference between the teams. With this victory, Real Madrid need one draw in their final match of the season at Malaga this Sunday to claim the championship.
The three points. One more match for Ronaldo to show that the dosing of his playing time this season has allowed him to stay in excellent conditions to this last month. And not only Ronaldo but also Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco, Karim Benzema and even Danilo look in their best shapes of the season. Isco keeps delivering and looks like a rightful starter. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas has also recovered his swagger.
The team lost control of the match for the last twenty minutes of the first half, in which Celta could have tied the score. Real Madrid's right side looked shaky, and the midfield failed to keep possession. Sergio Ramos flirted with a sending-off for a good spell of the second half.
8 (out of 10) -- The team looked focused and determined for the first 25 minutes and recovered control of the match after half-time. The new midfield dynamic with Isco in a free role and the usual trio behind him works very well. Zinedine Zidane also deserves huge praise for his management of the team's resources and his rotations. He perhaps could have subbed Ronaldo a bit earlier, but the Portuguese striker looks indeed in fine form.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- He's back to his best at the best possible time of the season. Another handful of very tough saves from the Costa Rican. Helpless on Celta's goal as John Guidetti's shot took a deflection.
DF Danilo, 7 -- Of all the surprising stats from Real Madrid's bench this season, Danilo's 16 starts are probably the most unexpected. He struggled in the first half but got better as the match went along. Improves with space, suffers in tight spots.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 -- Had Guidetti in his back pocket for most of the match, but a weird play in which he handled the ball during the first half incensed the match. Another bizarre decision or reflex by the French centre-back, a trait that always leaves fans unsure of his reliability in top matches.
DF Sergio Ramos, 5 -- Solid for most of the first half, he seemed to lose his focus right before the interval with a couple of missed passes. After that, he joined every battle or discussion he could with Celta players and was lucky not to be sent off. That was reckless behaviour from the skipper that could have left him out of the huge match remaining to win the title.
DF Marcelo, 8 -- Another complete performance by the Brazilian, including several plays who confused the Celta back four. He assisted Benzema, who desperately needed to score.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Despite a less than brilliant end of the first half, the team played well when the Croatian got the ball. Looks as mobile and confident as he has this season.
MF Casemiro, 5 -- His poor first-half performance, including a well-deserved yellow, was among the worst he has had since he started for Real Madrid. Improved at the beginning of the second, but Zidane decided to replace him to avoid a second yellow that would have left Casemiro out of the final match in Malaga.
MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- Less accurate than usual in the first half, he pressed well, ventured forward several times and finished coolly the chance he had at the end of the match.
MF Isco, 8 -- The small midfielder participated less than in previous matches, but his interventions were key for the final result. His counter for Ronaldo's second goal, including a pinpointed through-ball for the Portuguese, was memorable.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 9 -- Finished Celta off with two left-footed strikes that left the otherwise excellent goalie Sergio Alvarez frozen. Looks sharp, focused and fast. Missed a fantastic opportunity for a hat trick.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Another positive all-around performance by the Frenchman, who however scored only the one chance that was impossible to miss. It's shocking how difficult it has become for Benzema to get on the scoresheet.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 7 -- Replaced Casemiro after 71 minutes. His entrance after Iago Aspas' sending-off gave Real Madrid control over midfield.
MF Marco Asensio, NR -- Replaced Ronaldo after 84 minutes. Stole the ball that led to Real Madrid's fourth.
FW Lucas Vazquez, NR -- Replaced Isco after 84 minutes. Could have scored after a good play on the right wing.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.