A balanced and more defensive approach saw Real Madrid clinch their 19th win of the season and now they are at the top of La Liga, equal on points with Barcelona but with better head-to-head games. Goals from Ramos (p) and Benzema helped defeat Real Sociedad 2-1, just like we predicted in our match preview.
The first half started with both sides being cautious and patient in their build. This allowed the defenses of both teams to easily stop anything that came at them. The first real chance for Real Madrid came at the 4th minute when Fede Valverde passed to Vinicius near the penalty spot, but the Brazilian’s shot was not good enough and went over the goal. For a long time after that, neither team managed to create a lot. Real Madrid kept trying to break the line with Vinicius on the left and Real Sociedad kept trying through balls from Odegaard to Isak through the middle of the field. Both teams were pressing high in their opponents half, with Real Sociedad going more aggressively after the two Real Madrid center-backs, Varane and Ramos. Odegaard looked like he had special instructions to press Ramos very hard and it proved somewhat successful as Ramos was not able to play the ball forward and Courtois was forced to kick it away a few times.
The first shot on goal came at the 33rd minute when Fede Valverde stole a ball in midfield and launched a quick counter-attack that caught Real Sociedad out of position. Fede’s pass on the right was met by Benzema, who managed to run on the left but his shot was saved by Remiro. A few minutes later, Vinicius manages to dribble his way between the Real Sociedad’s defensive line and take a shot, but again Remiro was able to stop the shot. Casemiro picked up a card in the 21st minute and is suspended for the next game against Mallorca.
Overall, Real Madrid were better in the first half, but neither team did enough offensively to earn a goal.
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The second half started with Real Sociedad pressing very high again but Real Madrid, much like in the first half, were able to deal with it pretty well. The first real danger came after a Marcelo pass from midfield broke the line and found Vinicius running at full speed, but he was ultimately stopped just inside the box. Moments later, in a similar fashion, Marcelo passes through the lines for Vinicius, who after a couple of great dribbles finds himself in front of the goalkeeper and in position to shot when he was fouled from behind. VAR confirmed that it was a penalty, and we think it was too, but it was a soft one. As usual, Ramos stepped up to take the penalty and in his calm and controlled demeanor saw where the goalkeeper was jumping and shot on the opposite side to give his team the 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, el Capitan was injured a few moments later after a duel between him and Isak where they clashed their knees and had to be subbed out for Militao. At the same moment, Real Sociedad subbed in Januzaj, who later proved to be the best sub of this game. It took Januzaj just a couple of minutes before he took a shot a meter outside the box, but the shot was too high and it went over the goal.
James, who was having a poor game, kept drifting between left and right, showing more danger on the left, wasn’t able to do enough to help be the link between Vinicius and Benzema and the rest of the team. Kroos had a shot from distance saved by Remiro, after a series of combinations between James, Vinicius and himself. At this point in game, Real Madrid were poor offensively and Real Sociedad were more in control of the game, attacking from all sides with Januzaj leading the charge. And it was in fact Januzaj who scored from a great shot from outside the box, which was — somewhat controversially — ruled offside because Merino (who didn’t touch the ball) stood in Courtois’ line of sight. This was the most controversial moment of the game.
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Fede Valverde’s insistence on the right wing got him into a position to cross to Benzema over the Real Sociedad defense. The French forward stopped the ball with his shoulder, but this was enough to distract the two Real Sociedad defenders who instead of playing kept calling for a handball. Benzema, fortunately for Real Madrid, continued to play and managed to score a great goal between the legs of the defender, to give Real Madrid a 2-0 lead, and what would later be the winning goal that saw Los Blancos go to the top of La Liga.
Real Sociedad responded immediately and were not attacking a lot and their high pressing was more aggressive than before. This caused Real Madrid to lose control of the game offensively as they had trouble getting out of their own half. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the defense — which has been good all season long — was playing very well and looked like they can easily defend anything Real Sociedad could throw at them. Zidane tried to respond by subbing out Benzema and James for Mariano and Asensio. The Real Madrid subs didn’t the desired effect. Mariano had one good chance but after controlling the ball well, he took a very poor shot that saw the ball end up in the stands.
Real Sociedad managed to score their only goal of the game, in the 82nd minute after a great cross from Roberto Lopez on the left found it’s way across our box and behind Dani Carvajal, to Merino who scored with a great goal. Asensio should have covered the runner and Militao could have intervened better to cover for Dani Carvajal who was battling against another player here.
The game was still balanced, but it looked like Real Sociedad want it more and they were attacking as they had more scoring chances than Real Madrid but could not level the score. Zidane responded by bringing in Modric and Mendy for Fede Valverde and Marcelo. These subs proved to be enough help for Real Madrid to be able to stop La Real’s attacks and win the 3, very important points and return to Madrid as leaders of La liga.
This was a huge win for Real Madrid’s title race. Months after Real Madrid lost the top of the table, they are now back at the top and La Liga is theirs to lose. Los Blancos play against Mallorca on Wednesday.