Madrid ensure pressure eases for return to Pamplona

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Pedro Castillo/Getty ImagesJese scored the second goal in Real Madrid's 2-0 victory, giving Los Blancos a comfortable advantage heading into next week's second leg at Osasuna.

Dropping two points at Osasuna before Christmas may have been far from ideal for Real Madrid in La Liga, but it at least prepared them for their Copa del Rey last-16 clash with the side from Pamplona.

Los Blancos hosted Los Rojillos at the Bernabeu in the first leg on a chilly Thursday night in the Spanish capital knowing full well what to expect from the return trip to El Sadar, a place that is not full of fond memories for Madrid in recent years.

Carlo Ancelotti's men drew 2-2 at Osasuna last month, leaving them five points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and the Italian attempted to make sure there were no nightmares in the Basque Country for a second time by fielding a strong side for the first leg in a bid to make their cup progress all but secure before the return trip north. It worked, kind of, with goals from Karim Benzema and in-form Jese Rodriguez guiding the hosts to a 2-0 win.

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Madrid have won only once in their past six visits to Osasuna so it was crucial for Los Blancos to stamp their authority on the tie on home soil. Had the first leg been played in Pamplona, Ancelotti may have fielded a slightly weaker team with his side playing three matches in only six days (the 3-0 win against Celta Vigo on Monday, the cup game on Thursday and a trip to Espanyol on Sunday) and with the home leg still to come.

As it was, the Blancos' boss didn't want to leave anything to chance and fielded the big hitters, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale. Xabi Alonso, who has just penned a new two-year deal with the club, sat in the stands nursing a perforated eardrum. Ancelotti showed plenty of respect for the visitors by including the more defence-minded Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back instead of Dani Carvajal.

It took a while for Madrid to up their gear in Monday's hard-fought victory over Celta and it was more of the same against Javi Gracia's men. Bale, who returned following a calf injury as a substitute on Monday, failed to really appear in the first half and only got going on the resumption. Luke Modric, so impressive last time out and ever-improving, called the tune but it was one many of his team-mates weren't really listening to for much of the first half.

Ronaldo may be anxious in awaiting the results of the Ballon d'Or, with the winner being announced next Monday, but his fellow forward Benzema made it two goals in as many games in 2014, and Jese continued to show why he's so highly thought of at the Bernabeu, producing another encouraging display, this time from the start. The former Castilla man was unfortunate on the injury front again, however, limping off in the second half after notching Madrid's second. Ronaldo did provide the assist for the youngster, although he stopped Bale adding a third when he blocked the Welshman's shot near the line.

Osasuna are tied for the fewest goals in La Liga this season (alongside basement-dwelling Real Betis) and with just one dangerous goal threat featuring in Oriol Riera, who scored both goals in the 2-2 draw between the sides last month, it was always going to be a relatively comfortable night for cup goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who celebrated the birth of his son Martin with a clean sheet.

There was no time for drama, however, with Angel di Maria stuck to the bench all night. Ancelotti usually turns to the Argentine for the cup games when he rests regular first-reamers such as Ronaldo and Bale, but the former Benfica man didn't get on the pitch. He's made the headlines in the Madrid sport papers over the last few days for allegedly making an inappropriate gesture to supporters when he was subbed off against Celta. The club has since held an investigation into the matter and cleared him of any wrongdoing. There was still room for some whistles when his name was read out pre-match, however. Jese's injury, which led to Isco being introduced, may have helped keep di Maria on the bench and away from any awkward whistles.

On a night of few goals in the cup -- the only two from three matches came at the Bernabeu -- Los Blancos can be satisfied by their work. One foot will be in the next round, but Ancelotti, and his players, will know the job is not complete. Trips to Espanyol and Betis should be favourable for Madrid in this hectic fixture period, but five goals and two clean sheets from the first two matches of 2014 can only be encouraging for what lies ahead.


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