Ronaldo injury mars Real's solid team performance

Posted by Rob Train

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesReal Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo limps off after 54 mins against Almeria.

Carlo Ancelotti wasn't in particularly experimental mood on Saturday evening as Real Madrid eventually to a 5-0 win at Almeria's Juegos Mediterraneos stadium. Despite suggesting during the week that Casemiro -- who has been shelved since the opening exchanges of the season -- might get his chance in the absence of Sami Khedira, the Italian opted for a two-man midfield base of Asier Illaramendi and Xabi Alonso, leaving both the young Brazilian and Luka Modric on the bench.

Almeria set out their stall in a 5-4-1: certainly not a bad ploy for a team with one home victory this season and the third-leakiest defence in the league. It is not in games such as this that Almeria's battle lies. But Francisco Rodriguez's side does have a sting in the tail -- they has scored more than ninth placed Levante and Granada in 10th -- and sought to exploit their pace on the break through Rodri, Aleix Vidal and Suso. A sneaked goal, perchance a point, was a meritorious approach to the game: Real have conceded 17 going into Saturday, the same number as Barcelona and Atletico combined, and as has been the case for quite some time whatever success comes Real's way in 2013-14 will not be on the foundation of their oft-patched up back four.

Ancelotti's bench, Modric aside, was entirely composed of Castilla graduates. One for the purists to relish, but that Nacho was the sole defensive cover available highlighted the Italian's problems at the back.

Dani Carvajal occupied the right flank and Alvaro Arbeloa shifted to the undermanned left, both getting involved in attacking moves as the first half unfolded. A torrid evening for the home side looked the most likely outcome over 90 minutes as Real spent the first 15 hammering Almeria's goal.

Inevitably, Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with his third clear chance in the first two minutes, poking the ball past Esteban from Isco's well-placed cross. Karim Benzema, buoyed by his part in France's great escape in the World Cup playoffs, almost capitalized on a rebound from Ronaldo's 25-yard pop as Almeria weathered an early storm.

But Real were left to rue those early openings in a dominant opening 15 minutes as the pitch started to open up a bit and Almeria gained a foothold in the opposing half.

A mix-up on edge of the Real area prevented a shot on goal after a composed break and then Rodri, the Barcelona B loan signing, tested Diego Lopez's reactions with a fine header, although he was called offside in any case.

Ronaldo was denied a second at the other end through a last ditch tackle by Angel Trujillo before Suso curled an effort just wide as Almeria started to see more of the ball.

Patrolling the right touchline, Gareth Bale's radar was excited by a flying clearance from Esteban as Ronaldo bore down on goal, which the Welshman cheekily tried to hook back into the net from distance. Both Benzema and Bale went close as Real turned the screw, with the excellent Esteban again denying Ronaldo after a jinking run. By the time the half hour mark was reached, Real had carved out 14 attempts on goal.

However, Almeria went into the break in the ascendancy, a Vidal effort from a training ground set-piece whizzing past Lopez's near-side post under the watchful eye of the Real keeper. Vidal and Rodri finished off moves as Almeria streamed forward with greater purpose while Real's positioning at the back fell apart and, as Ancelotti has complained often this season, possession was ceded far too often. The visitor suffered from the lack of link-up play between the base of midfield and the forward quartet, Illarramendi sitting too deep and Isco too advanced for the cohesion offered by Modric to be replicated.

As the second half got underway Real attempted to stamp their authority on the game but the biggest news of the evening was created after 54 minutes when Ronaldo landed awkwardly when firing in a cross and was forced to head to the tunnel, to a sporting ovation from the Juegos Mediterraneos.

Lopez was then called into action to repel a stinging Suso free kick after Bale -- whose marksmanship left much to be desired to that point -- had thumped another chance into the stands.

Enter Benzema, who capped a splendid individual week with a glorious turn-and-strike on the edge of the area to double Real's advantage 16 minutes into the half. Alvaro Morata was already waiting on the touchline to replace the France forward, but he had earned his coin with that insurance against a potential Almeria comeback.

It then fell to the home side to ponder what might have been had they been more assured when an equaliser beckoned at the end of the first half. A 1-0 deficit against this Real Madrid team is not too daunting at home; 2-0 is a mountain that few teams would even bother to set foot on but credit is due to the ambition of Rodriguez's side, who never stopped pushing to reduce the deficit.

However, that desire provided plenty of space going into final half-hour and Bale popped up to take advantage of a blunder by Sebastian Dubarbier to slot past the despairing dive of Esteban.

With the result now in no doubt whatsoever, Ancelotti withdrew Illaramendi for Casemiro, ending the Brazilian's first-team hiatus. Isco fired home two minutes after the substitution before Casemiro provided an incisive ball for Morata to saucily lob the onrushing Esteban. The Brazilian rattled a post with a thumping long-range effort late on to remind Ancelotti of that facet of his game, and provided another pass from deep that drew a reaction save from Jese's strike.

The result did not quite do justice to Almeria, whose luck was summed up when a goal-bound shot in the dying minutes pinged back off the head of a prostrate home player. For Real, it was three more points in the pursuit of Atletico and Barca, and evidence that the side is not entirely reliant on Ronaldo for victory. However, the extent of the Portuguese's injury will be the measure of how costly Saturday's proves to be.

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