Sporting Gijon 0-4 Real Madrid
- 0-1 Raul, 15′
- 0-2 Huntelaar, 37′
- 0-3 Marcelo, 49′
- 0-4 Raul, 76′
After Barcelona miraculously drew 2-2 with Real Betis, Madrid were presented with an opening, however small, in their match against Sporting Gijon. They took full advantage, never looking the timid offensive team we have seen since Juande Ramos took over. They still managed to keep a clean sheet – their seventh in eight games – but they were also attacking aggressively and efficiently, and that was without their spark plug Arjen Robben.
Everything looked in sync today. Gago won seemingly every tackle he went for. Lass Diarra secured the midfield with him and distributed the ball nicely. Marcelo looked comfortable in midfield and began the long journey toward redemption by scoring the third goal. Huntelaar got his first for Los Blancos and displayed a deft first touch on multiple occasions. Higuain was simply marvelous with the ball at his feet, controlling it with grace and ease and finding teammates with beautiful passes from every angle.
And then there was Raul. Once again, as always, now and forever, he got himself in all the right places at all the right times and capitalized on the chances that resulted. “Opportunistic” is too cynical a term for someone so keenly aware of positioning and timing on the pitch, and who has performed at such a high level for so long. “Savvy” might be a closer fit but still doesn’t capture the deadly lurking quality of his runs and finishes. Whatever adjective you choose, the result was the same: Raul finally passed Alfredo Di Stefano as Real Madrid’s all time leading goal scorer with his first goal today. It came off a fierce cross by Sergio Ramos, and it took a good deal of precision to make the right contact with it on one touch and steer it past the keeper inside the right post. It was a fitting way for him to grab the record, and the team was appropriately jubilant for its captain.
The second was merely icing. After Huntelaar netted his first for the club and Higuain set Marcelo up for the third with a gorgeous backheel, Raul stalked around the six-yard box to clean up the mess and stab one home off the rebound from Higuain’s shot. Lafuente was under a lot of pressure but probably still should have handled it better, and when he spilled it Raul was there for the kill. 4-0 and game over, if it wasn’t already.
This might have been the first Real Madrid game in 2009 that was actually fun to watch. It’s always nice to see them win, especially after the shaky start to the season, but they have looked mostly tentative in attack as Juande Ramos worked to shore up a mistake-prone defense. Obviously, his project worked, because Real have conceded in all of two games since he took over – 2 to Barcelona and 1 to Osasuna – and have kept eight clean sheets in ten games under the new manager. Today it appeared that he finally felt comfortable enough with the defense to unleash the offense, and a four goal onslaught was the result. Yes, it was only against Sporting Gijon, but the way they played today very few would have been able to hang with them.
They have a tricky few games coming up, with Betis coming to town next week followed by Liverpool in Champions League play, but after facing Espanyol and Atletico Madrid in league play (and wrapping up that pesky Merseyside match-up), they have a fairly easy road to hoe: Athletic Bilbao, Almeria, Malaga, Valladolid, Recreativo, and Getafe all in a row. Plus whatever Champions League action they can earn for themselves. There are still plenty of opportunities for them to slip up in those games, but if they can stay in contact with Barça, they can at least make it interesting toward the end of the season. Do I really think they can catch up with them? Nah, probably not. Barcelona is too talented and, most importantly, too well coached to stumble as much as would be necessary. But it would be nice for them to at least have to think about it and know that SOMEONE was waiting in the wings if they should slip. With Sevilla 9 points behind Real and 19 behind Barça, Madrid is the only club that could conceivably keep pace with them and really challenge for the title. Whether or not that happens, they will have at least redeemed their season and made a statement about what to expect next year. Juande Ramos may or may not be around to steer them that far, but he has already done his job in stabilizing the team for a future run at the title. Good enough for me.