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Off colour and offside - Madrid start slowly in month of tough tests

19:45 GMT+3 02/04/2017
Karim Benzema Real Madrid Alaves La Liga
Zinedine Zidane's side beat Alaves comfortably enough in the end, but will need to be better as Atletico, Barcelona and Bayern Munich lie in wait


The final score does not tell the story. Real Madrid made hard work of this Liga game against a tricky Alaves side in the blazing sunshine at the Santiago Bernabeu. It finished 3-0 to Los Blancos, but it was a slow start for Zinedine Zidane's side in a month of tough tests.

Benzema, Isco & Nacho boost Madrid's title hopes

Before the match, Madrid fans paid tribute to their former hero Juanito by unfurling a tifo in his honour and a minute of silence followed. But the league leaders struggled to replicate the spirit of their fabled forward as the game got under way.

With Sergio Ramos rested along with Keylor Navas, and Raphael Varane limping off early on his return from injury, Dani Carvajal was brought on and although Madrid were seldom scared in defence, it was a subdued showing further forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will both be disappointed with their contributions, while Luka Modric has been below his best for several weeks now and Real found it difficult to break down an Alaves side that had won away to Barcelona earlier on this season and came into this game with 40 points already.

With all of their quality in the team, Madrid still should have come through this more easily than they did. However, it took a volley from Karim Benzema to give the home side the lead and replays showed the French forward had been in an offside position earlier in the move.

Varane subbed off early through injury

It looked like Benzema's goal would be the only one of the afternoon as time ticked away at the Bernabeu, but Isco strode through to score an impressive second after assuming a more advanced position in the closing stages (when the French striker had been substituted). And then Nacho, assured again in defence, scored a third to make it a flattering final score.

The result will please Madrid and also Zidane, as Los Blancos cemented their top spot in La Liga (with Barcelona in action in Granada later on Sunday), but Real will need to improve significantly in this month of tough tests in the Primera Division and also the Champions League.

After travelling to nearby Leganes on Wednesday, Madrid face Atletico at home in the city's derby next weekend, before two matches against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, either side of a trip to Sporting Gijon, and then Liga games versus Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia in the last week of the month.

Isco: Madrid can win Liga & Champions League

Madrid's hopes of winning La Liga and also the Champions League will depend hugely on what happens in the remainder of April and Zidane will want more intensity in the bigger games that lie in wait for his team.

The French coach was whistled by some supporters after taking off Benzema, who had been one of Madrid's better players against Alaves, as the ineffective Bale remained on the pitch. But he will not care too much about that.

The only thing he will worry about is the performance of his players. Against Atletico, Bayern and Barcelona, Madrid must improve on this subdued showing. Otherwise, there will be no happy ending come the end of the season.