Real Madrid signed off from La Liga in 2014 with a 20th consecutive win in all competitions thanks to a 4-1 victory over Almeria in Andalusia. Carlo Ancelotti’s men will head to Morocco on Sunday for the Club World Cup, but first they extended their lead atop La Liga to five points thanks to first-half goals from Isco and Gareth Bale and two late strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo. Having already claimed the Spanish record for successive wins by defeating Ludogorets on Tuesday, this result leaves Madrid just four short of equaling the international record, currently held by Brazilian club Coritiba.
For a long time this looked like being one of the toughest contests of a run that began in mid-September. An Almeria team that entered level on points in a cluster of four clubs at the bottom of the table and had seen its coach dismissed after their latest loss last week, put in a sterling effort that will have impressed new coach Juan Ignacio Martinez, sitting in the stands ahead of officially taking the reins. Verza struck a fine equalizer in the first half and had a glorious chance to do likewise after the interval, but instead saw his penalty saved by Iker Casillas. That squandered opportunity derailed Almeria’s charge and Ronaldo, previously having a frustrating evening, added two goals late on to make the result an emphatic one and take the Portuguese star’s total in La Liga this season to 25.
It will now be down to the best from outside Europe to try and end Madrid’s run, although Almeria gave it a real shot on Friday. With the hosts displaying a positive philosophy from the outset, Madrid had to survive some early scares. Last-ditch interventions were required by both Pepe and Dani Carvajal in an early goal-mouth scramble to block efforts on goal, while striker Tommer Hemed should have done better with a free header that he deposited into the hands of Casillas. Madrid had come close, too. The excellent Toni Kroos struck a technically perfect volley from distance that took a deflection onto the underside of the crossbar, while Karim Benzema was denied by a save at close range.
With 34 minutes gone, Real Madrid’s greater quality in the attacking third paid off. Isco has been sensational since coming into the side in recent months, with perhaps the only thing missing from his game being goals. But he came up with something special to get his second in La Liga this season when majestically taking down a high cross on the left of the box, teasing a defender and creating space and an angle for a shot that he bent brilliantly into far corner.
From there another straightforward victory might have been expected. Instead, Almeria gave Madrid further work before their attempt to add the world crown to their European title. Raphael Varane could only head a cross away into a pocket of space just outside the area and Verza took full advantage by drilling an unstoppable effort into the corner of the net. Yet parity would be restored for just three minutes. Another fine goal was soon forthcoming when Kroos produced one of his numerous inch-perfect deliveries of the evening and Bale met it with a powerful header at the near post.
The Welshman could have added to his seventh goal in La Liga this campaign when racing through at the start of the second half, but on his weaker right side he dragged a shot tamely wide. Meanwhile, Ronaldo saw a powerful effort saved and then had a strong penalty appeal waved away as he was dragged back in the box. Just past the hour mark, the referee was more sympathetic to an appeal at the other end. Marcelo was adjudged to have tripped Edgar in the area, despite the slightest of contacts. And Madrid will feel justice was done when Casillas flung himself to his left to palm Verza’s spot-kick away and maintain Real Madrid’s lead.
It proved a decisive moment. Almeria no longer had the same luster in their attacks, while their high defensive line was there for the taking for a Madrid team as devastating on the break as any in recent memory. With nine minutes remaining, Ronaldo fed Benzema in behind down the left then continued his run to receive the Frenchman’s return and slot home simply. And, never content with just a solitary strike, Ronaldo boosted his tally to 32 in all competitions after fine attacking work from Carvajal.