If people still hung around water coolers, today’s match in Seville would have been this weekend’s water cooler game – the match everybody talked about in the break room on Monday morning. Granted, those water cooler moments never seem to involve soccer, but if you’re at this site, there’s probably a corner of your personal life that is dominated by a soccer-loving peer group. So just imagine them hovering around the cooler.
Also, imagine them talking about Cristiano. And Carlos Bacca, as well as Vicente Iborra, Grzegorz Krychowiak’s bloody nose and, at the end, Iker Casillas. Coming into this weekend, we knew Real Madrid’s visit to Sevilla was going to be a big one, but it’s rare that such anticipation delivers on the field. But Saturday, La Liga’s marquee matchup didn’t disappoint.
Here’s five, no six — nay, seven! — things to talk about around that imaginary water cooler:
1. Sergio Ramos? Back in midfield?
In the wake of Ramos’s surprise start in midfield against Atlético in Champions League, head coach Carlo Ancelotti joked about a promise to eventually start him at center forward. As with so most things Ancelotti says, it served as a nice distraction from the actual issues: Why, and when will that happen again?
It happened again today, perhaps an indication of how seriously the Madrid boss took today’s game. If it was originally the stakes of a do-or-die Champions League game that drew Ramos out of the back, what did today’s lineup say about the coach’s regard for Sevilla, particularly since Ramos hadn’t been used in midfield against either Celta Vigo or Almería?
Ramos was responsible for Sevilla’s first goal, conceding the penalty that allowed Bacca to bring the hosts within one, but it was a foul he could have just as easily conceded while playing defense. Perhaps more important, his role partnering Toni Kroos in the middle provided a balance Asier Illarremendi couldn’t. With Luka Modrić out, that balance provides a nice antidote to a potential weakness in the middle.
With Champions League set to matchup El Real against Juventus’s three-man middle, Ramos suddenly seems more likely to take up midfield than his normal role in defense. Say what you want about Ancelotti, but the man never underestimates his own talent.
2. Ronaldo scored three times and surged back in front of Messi…
Remember that moment when Lionel Messi briefly overtook his rival in the race for this year’s Pichichi? Of course you don’t. We forgot to mentioning it amid our bullying accusations, but it happened. After Barcelona routed Córdoba, 8-0, Messi has 40 goals. Ronaldo? 39.
That lead lasted all of 36 minutes in Seville. Then, Ronaldo headed himself even. One minute later, he was in front, and by the 68th minute, the reigning world player of the year was up to 42 league goals
When Vicente Iborra made it 3-2 with 11 minutes left, that third Ronaldo goal became the game-winner, giving El Real the points it needed to stay within two of Barcelona. Yet on a day when Ronaldo notched another hat trick (the fifth straight season he’s had one against Sevilla), it makes sense to devote a few words to the individual. With the 29th hat trick of his Real Madrid career, Ronaldo showed he’s ready to hold off Messi’s surge.
3. … but now apparently gets to use his hands.
The official record reflects none of this:
And definitely not this:
I mean, theoretically there was a point where Ronaldo handled a ball, and because he’s sitting on the brink of a yellow card suspension, he theoretically could have missed next weekend’s visit from Valencia. And yes, Valencia is quite good, has already beaten Real Madrid this season and could theoretically deal a severe blow to El Real’s title pursuit.
But this is Cristiano Ronaldo we’re talking about. Even if he’d gotten a card, the league would have rescinded it. Theoretically.
4. Iker Casillas went full San Iker (and deserves an apology).
The stat sheet says Iker Casillas only made three saves, but at least one of them was crucial.
With that in mind, I’d like to apologize. Mr. Casillas, I usually include a caveat in these posts about how you’ve let in some weak goals over the last few years, and yes, this is where I could bring up the goal you let in earlier this year versus Atlético. But you’re actually still a highly decent keeper. True, this is all coming off as a backhanded compliment, but I hope you respect my process. I just can’t be a better man overnight.
5. Sevilla’s unbeaten streak at the Sánchez Pizjuán is now over…
March 12, 2014. 416 days ago. That’s the last time Sevilla lost at home, although that was in Europa League (albeit to La Liga opposition: Real Betis). The club’s last home loss in league was 19 days before that, to Barcelona. In all, it’d been 435 days since Sevilla had dropped a Liga match at the Sánchez Pizjuán, which probably explains why Ancelotti took this one so seriously. To his credit, Real Madrid never trailed.
6. … in large part because of a possible Emery mistake …
Flashback to minute 28. Defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak goes up for a header, applies his nose to Ramos’s head and falls the pitch with a face full of blood. His nose seems broken, but Unai Emery wants to wait. Why burn a sub so early if one of his starters can return?
Only Ronaldo scored two minutes later. Then, moments after that, he scored again. While Sevilla played shorthanded, Real Madrid built the lead it’d never give up. All the while, Iborra warmed up on the sidelines.
It’s hard to blame Emery too much when most coaches would have done the same. If the clash of heads happens late and there’s still a sub to burn? Do it. But a half-hour into a match you hope will stay close, losing the flexibility of three subs hurts. It doesn’t hurt as much as allowing two goals, but Emery didn’t know that would happen. It was reasonable for him to assume it wouldn’t.
Emery wanted to buy time to get more information. Unfortunately, patience came back to hurt him, but Emery can take solace. While his team played 11-on-11, it was +1.
7. … but the still team played at a Champions League-level.
What a weird thing to say, right? Champions League-level. What does that even mean?
Well, consider: Ancelotti had to start Ramos in midfield. He needed Gareth Bale off the bench to help with what was ultimately the game-winning goal. At every position, his starting XI included the best, healthiest option he had. And perhaps most importantly, Real Madrid played well, if only in absolute terms. Despite Juventus lurking mid-week, Ancelotti was not ready to risk Madrid’s title challenge with anything but his best team
Yet come the last 10 minutes, Sevilla was inches away from taking a point. And this wouldn’t have been lucking into a result. Sevilla out-shot Real Madrid, 16-14. Emery’s team put in a performance that drew prideful applause from home fans as the players left, defeated.
Now Sevilla turns its attentions to Europe, too, albeit with two extra day’s rest. After today’s performance, it’s difficult to see Fiorentina keeping up. Sevilla looks ready to defend its Europa League title.