Real Madrid moved top of La Liga for the first time this season with a 2-0 victory over Granada at the Bernabeu. After struggling in the opening 45 minutes, Madrid improved dramatically after the break and goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema ensured an eventually comfortable victory against a Granada side that had little ambition but to try and keep their opponents at bay for as long as possible.
With their ninth straight victory in all competitions, Madrid, who were five points behind in the Primera Division title race just two weeks ago, now sit two points clear, albeit with rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid still to play on Sunday. The balance of the team again looked better than early in the campaign with Ancelotti sticking to his 4-3-3 formation. Los Merengues have still to concede a goal in seven matches played in 2014.
For Ronaldo, who also had a spectacular overhead kick repelled and struck the crossbar with a deflected free-kick, his goal was a most welcome one, coming as it did on the afternoon in which he was presented the Ballon d’Or trophy in front of his adoring fans. Still, it was an efficient rather than spectacular display for both Madrid and its star.
The home side had started in a manner which suggested there might be a repeat of the 5-0 mauling of Real Betis last week. Ronaldo shot wide in the opening minutes, while Sergio Ramos headed just over as Roberto came and failed to get to a cross.
But that early intensity fizzled out as Granada’s mass ranks behind the ball kept Madrid at bay without a great deal of discomfort. Madrid were slow in possession and all too predictable, with Gareth Bale particularly culpable as time and again he ran into traffic trying to cut inside. While posing no threat going forward, the visitors were also keeping their opponents at bay by doing a good job of keeping the ball.
It was only in the dying seconds of the opening period that contest sparked back to life, and spectacularly so. Ronaldo met a cross from Luka Modric perfectly with a sensational overhead kick from six yards out, but, if anything, the incredible reaction save from Roberto to keep it out might have been even better.
The momentum from that near-miss was carried into the second half, which began with Ancelotti having replaced the ineffective Bale -- who had admittedly taken a painful kick between his legs early on -- with the in-form Jese Rodriguez. Roberto was again required to make a fine stop when he deflected an effort from Modric over as the Croatian bore down on his goal. But the Granada keeper would finally be beaten as Madrid what was always going to be a pivotal opening goal in the 56th minute.
The again impressive Modric created it with a typically fine pass into the feet of Ronaldo in the box and from there the Portuguese utilized some blindingly quick footwork to manufacture the smallest of openings for a shot that he drilled low left-footed into the corner of the net.
Ronaldo twice came close to a second. First, he saw his low effort from the right blocked by the legs of Roberto before a powerfully hit free-kick deflected up off the back of his own teammate Pepe and came flush back off the crossbar.
With 14 minutes remaining the result was put beyond doubt with the type of quick-paced attack that was so lacking in the first half. Ronaldo and Marcelo combined well down the left to get the Brazilian full-back in behind the Granada defense and his cut back was finished clinically by Benzema to score for his third game running and keep Madrid’s momentum flowing.