Cristiano Ronaldo helped ease the pressure on boss Rafa Benitez as
his two goals inspired Real Madrid to a 3-1 win over Real Sociedad.
The Portuguese missed a penalty and then scored from the spot to give
Madrid a deserved first-half lead which was quickly cancelled out at
the start of the second period by Bruma.
But Ronaldo volleyed home from a corner to restore Madrid’s lead and
then substitute Lucas Vazquez sealed the points with a close-range
Madrid went into the game having scored 22 goals in their last three
games, thrashing Getafe 4-1, Malmo 8-0 and Rayo Vallecano 10-2.
Yet the build-up to the game told of a far from stable atmosphere at
the club. Reports that Benitez’s job was at immediate risk gathered pace
over the Christmas period, and in his pre-game conference he denounced
the stories, talking of a “campaign” against him, the club and president
Benitez picked an attacking line-up, the same midfield three and
attacking trio that started in the 4-0 defeat to Barcelona a month
earlier, but with Nacho and Pepe replacing Raphael Varane and Sergio
Ramos in central defence.
La Real’s biggest hope of putting Benitez under more pressure was
their in-form striker Imanol Agirretxe, who had scored eight goals in
his nine games and went into the game level with Ronaldo on 12 league
goals. But the 28-year-old would not last long in the game, forced off
injured in the first half after clashing with Keylor Navas.
Earlier in the game, Brazilian forward Jonathas de Jesus had a strong
penalty appeal turned down after Pepe trod on his foot in the area, and
the visitors’ rotten luck continued as they had to make another change
late in the half when Sergio Canales was stretchered off with a
suspected knee injury.
The club later confirmed that the diagnosis of his injury was
“compatible” with a ligament tear in his left knee. The 24-year-old had
previously torn ligaments in his right knee on two separate occasions.
He required surgery both times.
Madrid had made a bright start, Pepe, Benzema, and Ronaldo all forcing saves from Geronimo Rulli in quick succession.
They were handed their clearest chance yet midway through the first
half when Benzema went down after the slightest of challenges by
defender Yuri, but Ronaldo could not even hit the target from 12 yards,
blasting over and missing from the spot for the first time this season.
But he was afforded another chance to score three minutes before the
break after Gareth Bale’s cross bounced off the leg of Yuri and then
struck the defender’s arm, with referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez
harshly pointing to the spot.
Ronaldo made no mistake at the second time of asking, smashing the
ball into the bottom corner and beyond Rulli, scoring his sixth penalty
of the season.
But La Real were back level four minutes after the interval, Bruma
smashing the ball into the top corner from the left wing after Jonathas
had outmuscled Pepe on the other side before squaring to his team-mate.
Bruma almost gave the visitors the lead moments later as he raced
through a gap in the defence to try and pounce on a loose ball, but
Navas got there first.
And then at the other end Rulli made the finest save of the game, diving to his right to palm away a shot from Bale.
Ronaldo eventually eased rising tensions in the Bernabeu by striking
again on 67 minutes, swivelling to meet Marcelo’s corner on the volley
and sending it bouncing past Rulli, rounding off a prolific 2015 with 57
goals in 57 games.
And 20 minutes later Vazquez rounded off the victory for Madrid, arriving in the box to turn Bale’s low cross under Rulli.