Real Madrid 6-1 Real Betis
A first half rout helped Real Madrid to a convincing 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis, as they closed the gap on Barcelona.
Juande Ramos decided to stick with the same side that hammered Sporting Gijon last weekend, with Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Marcelo keeping their places.
Betis, meanwhile, left Sergio Garcia on the bench, preferring instead to pack the midfield.
Real Betis had been expected to seriously challenge Real Madrid after their strong performance against Barcelona last week, but Los Merengues dominated the early exchanges, and were rewarded early when Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring after seven minutes. Raul flicked the ball on for the Argentine, who took the ball around Ricardo and duly slotted home. It was the perfect start to the match for the home side, and it was just the beginning of the pain for Betis.
To their credit, the visitors went on the attack straight away in response, with Pepe making a brilliant sliding challenge to dispossess Damia, as he looked certain to score the equalizer. Madrid then went up the other end and scored their second, as Ricardo dropped a fairly tame cross from Marcelo straight into Huntelaar's path, and the Dutchman had no problem in smashing the ball into the net.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar's night soon got even better, when his header from a Sergio Ramos cross was tipped onto the bar by Ricardo, leaving him with a simple tap-in to score Madrid's third. There were only 23 minutes on the clock at this stage, and the scoring was far from finished.
Having been pummelled for most of the half, Betis unexpectedly pulled one back on the half-hour, when Ricardo Oliveira cut in from the left and unleashed a spectacular shot past Iker Casillas. He should have added a second five minutes later, when St. Iker blundered by passing the ball straight to the Brazilian, but he could only hit the post with just the keeper to beat.
It was a fatal mistake, as Real Madrid buried the game in the remaining minutes of the first half. First Raul unleashed an unstoppable curling shot on 36 minutes, after being set up by Marcelo, leaving Ricardo with no chance. The Real Madrid talisman was in the mood, and he scored another sublime goal five minutes later, when he chipped the ball delicately over Ricardo from a tight angle, after being played through by Fernando Gago.
Just when it looked like it could not possibly get any worse for Betis, Sergio Ramos rose at the back post to head home a Gabriel Heinze free-kick on the stroke of half-time, sending the home side into the break on a perfect note. Having smashed four past Sporting Gijon last week, this was a real statement of intent from Real Madrid, and there was still one half to go.
Juande Ramos was clearly more than confident in his side's advantage, as he made the unprecedented step of making all three of his changes at half-time, withdrawing Fabio Cannavaro, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain for Miguel Torres, Guti and Wesley Sneijder respectively, with the Champions League fast approaching. Understandably, the intensity of the first half was significantly lacking in the second, as both sides seemed to accept the final destination of the three points.
After the frantic goal scoring of the first half, chances were at a premium in the second, as the crowd turned their attention as much towards events at the Camp Nou as at the Bernabeu. Oliveira and Marcelo both had decent chances to score, but their finishes were poor as both sides went through the motions.
With ten minutes to go, Huntelaar nearly had a hat-trick, but he could only hit the post with Ricardo well beaten. It was the last and arguably the only genuine incident of a soporific second half that was in complete contrast to the first. No-one could blame Real Madrid though, for having an eye on the Champions League after doing all the hard work.
With Barcelona going down at home, this win puts Real Madrid right back into the title race, with the gap now reduced to seven points. There was much derision when they announced their title intentions earlier in the season, but Madrid are far from out of the equation.
Arjun Miglani, Goal.com