Real Madrid moved four points clear at the top of La Liga, but their 2-1 win over Sevilla came at the expense of worrying injuries to Sergio Ramos and James Rodríguez ahead of their clash with city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday. In an eventful first half, Sevilla failed to take advantage of several good chances, while Real Madrid capitalized on some sloppiness at the other end as James headed in from close range and later his replacement Jesé Rodríguez finished with authority from close range.
James had been forced off just before the half-hour mark after appearing to damage the top of his right foot, while Ramos lasted just nine minutes before suffering an apparent hamstring injury. Although Madrid prevailed against Sevilla, despite Iago Aspas’ late goal to add drama to the closing stages, both players look highly unlikely to return in time for Saturday’s Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon. Ramos’ injury in particular is a concern with fellow center-back Pepe already on the sidelines. Still, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will now go into the fixture against an Atletico team that knocked them out of the Copa del Rey last month with a seven-point advantage and with a four point edge over second-placed Barcelona. And on Saturday they will be boosted, too, by the return from suspension of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Getting through their tricky game in hand over a Sevilla team riding high in fourth place in La Liga will also provide significant relief. For long periods, it was far from a straightforward evening. Even before Ramos’ exit, Madrid’s defense was under strain. After a slip by Raphael Varane, Vitolo was played in behind, but he shot poorly straight at Iker Casillas. Sevilla’s brave, high pressing was causing the hosts plenty of trouble early on, but their proactive approach helped bring about their undoing 12 minutes in. The Sevilla defense tried to step up for an offside, but, as the arms went up, James ran onto Marcelo’s bouncing cross to head past the stationary Beto from close range.
Still the chances for Sevilla kept coming, especially after Ramos had been replaced by Nacho. Unfortunately for Sevilla, they refused to fall to the man who leads their goal-scoring charts by some distance this season, Carlos Bacca. Instead Vicente Iborra twice failed to make the most of presentable opportunities, hitting the post with the best of them after side-stepping Casillas. Sevilla were denied, too, when Casillas saved from Vitolo, before their evening took a further turn for the worse.
Continuing the theme of the first half, this time it was Beto who suffered potentially the most serious injury of the three. Sevilla’s goalkeeper was brave to come out and prevent Karim Benzema from getting on the end of a cross, but was clattered into by the French striker. After several minutes of treatment, he was carried carefully from the pitch on a stretcher, with later reports suggesting he had been immediately taken to hospital with a head injury.
There was no grace period for Beto’s replacement, Sergio Rico, who, just a minute after coming on was picking the ball out of his net. Bacca was the chief culprit with a woeful pass back toward his own goal that was easily intercepted by Isco. Moments later the Madrid midfielder got an inadvertent touch to Benzema’s square pass to help it onto Jese, who fired low and hard into the net.
Real Madrid had chances to make the points safe, but this time it was they who were displayed profligacy in front of goal. Benzema fired wide of the near post from six yards, while Khedira saw a shot saved by Sergio Rico. In the second half, Gareth Bale risked further ire from the Madrid faithful when ignoring the presence of Benzema square of him and instead seeing his shot repelled.
When Aspas pulled a goal back 10 minutes from time, it appeared those misses might prove costly. Fresh from his first goal for the club since his loan move from Liverpool in a win over Espanyol at the weekend, Aspas finished high into the net after Vitolo cleverly escaped the attentions of both Alvaro Arbeloa and Khedira down the left. But there was to be no dramatic finish, allowing Madrid a comfort zone ahead of the latest installment of their increasingly fierce rivalry with Atletico.