A brace from Dani Ceballos helped Real Madrid top a feisty Alaves 2-1 in a hotly contested clash on Saturday afternoon at Mendizorroza in Vitoria.
In his first ever Real Madrid start, Ceballos scored a pair of goals in the first-half, which turned out to be enough to hand Los Blancos a sorely needed three points in light of Wednesday’s loss to Betis.
There will still be plenty of questions asked about Zinedine Zidane’s team though. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure as he went scoreless for the second match in a row, while once again Real were unable to completely shake an opponent that, given the gulf in talent between the two, should have been vanquished much sooner.
In his time as Real manage Zidane has never been afraid to rotate his squad and Saturday was another example of that, as stalwarts Luka Modric and Gareth Bale took seats on the bench, paving the way for Ceballos and Lucas Vazquez to start. The injury to Marcelo also meant Nacho was back in the starting XI playing left-back.
The chances kept coming for Los Blancos and if their accuracy had been better, they would have been up by two or three goals by the half-hour mark. The best look was a Nacho header that Pacheco tipped over the crossbar at the last second.
But Alaves hung tough and their long-awaited wait for the first goal of the season came to an end shortly before half-time. Burgui did well to avoid a pair of defenders and filter a pass to Munir down the right, and the cross from the former Barcelona man was perfect for Manu Garcia to head in past Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas for the 1-1.
The good times for the home fans did not last long though, as Ceballos scored his second of the match to give Real a lead at the break. A ball was floated in for Ronaldo in front of the Alaves goal, drawing Pacheco and a quartet of Alaves defenders. Pacheco’s punch-out went right to Ceballos, and it was an easy stroke into net for the 2-1 advantage.
There was a nice flow to the match to start the second half, with both teams playing very positive football, each keen to get forward and score. Isco had the third Real goal on his right boot after a lapse from the Alaves defence, but Pacheco made the kick save to bail out his back four.
But as the half wore on things turned chippy and became much more physical, which disrupted Real’s tempo and favoured the hosts. Ronaldo was enduring a tough afternoon, and it only got worse when for the second time on the day he hit the post, this time on a curling left-footer that looked to be going in.
The woodwork was a factor at the other end as well, as it looked like Pedraza was set to bring Alaves level, only for his deflected shot to bounce off the crossbar.
The drama continued and Pedraza again had a chance for Alaves’ second goal of the day after a mis-play from Raphael Varane, but with Navas closing down, Pedraza pushed his shot just enough to the left that it hit the post.
A pair of late Pacheco saves kept Alaves in the match, but in the end the Real defence managed to avoid any late trouble to pocket the hard-earned victory.
1.- Alaves: Pacheco; Vigaray (Alexis Ruano, min. 46), Maripan, Rodrigo Ely, Duarte; Dani Torres, Manu Garcia; Burgui (Pedraza, min. 66), Medran, Ibai (Sobrino, min. 81), Munir.
2.- Real Madrid: Keylor; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Nacho; Casemiro, Ceballos (Llorente, min. 72), Isco (Mayoral, min. 90); Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Goals: 0-1, min. 10: Ceballos; 1-1, min. 40: Manu Garcia; 1-2, min. 43: Ceballos.
Referee: Undiano Mallenco (Navarre).
Yellow cards: Vigaray (Min. 14) for Alaves, Carvajal (Min. 32) for Real Madrid, Rodrigo Ely (Min. 44) for Alaves, Medran (Min. 61) for Alaves, Manu Garcia (Min. 67) for Alaves, Torres (Min. 87) for Alaves.
Red cards: None.