Suspense and excitement galore in Spain as Real Madrid knocked Barcelona off the top of La Liga by beating Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday as Sergio Ramos rolled in another penalty before being forced off due to injury.
Karim Benzema continued his excellent form by adding a second at Anoeta and while Mikel Merino gave Real Sociedad hope with seven minutes left, Madrid held on to go above Barca on head-to-head.
Ramos scored his 20th consecutive spot-kick to become La Liga’s highest ever scoring defender on 68 goals, overtaking Ronald Koeman on the all-time list.
But Ramos limped off 10 minutes later with what looked like a knee injury, which will be a huge concern for Madrid if the problem proves serious. He was seen sitting with an ice-pack on his left knee in the stands.
Madrid also benefitted from two tight decisions after Adnan Januzaj drove in an equaliser for Real Sociedad, only to have it ruled out before Benzema doubled the lead and was judged not to have controlled with his arm.
Both calls were close and the fact they fell for Madrid will not have gone unnoticed in Barcelona. “From what we’ve seen it will be very difficult for Real Madrid to drop points,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique on Friday.
Yet it was Barca’s failure to score away at Sevilla that presented the opportunity to Madrid, whose victory in one of their toughest fixtures left has shifted the title race back in their favour.
Their defence, which boasts the club’s best record at this stage in 32 years, has been key, which means Ramos’ swift return will be crucial if his team want to hold on to first place.
Casemiro is already suspended after picking up a yellow card although Real Mallorca at home on Wednesday is the kind of fixture Madrid should be able to survive, even without Ramos and their only defensive midfielder.
Ramos’ 68 goals include 66 for Madrid and two for Sevilla while Sunday’s penalty was his seventh of this season, equalling his best haul for a single league campaign in his career.
If Ramos has to sit out, Zinedine Zidane will at least hope to have Eden Hazard fresh for Mallorca after the Belgian was named on the bench, perhaps rested or given extra time to recover from a kick to his ankle against Valencia last week.
Gareth Bale was also among the substitutes not to be brought on, this Bale’s sixth consecutive game out of the starting line-up.
Even James Rodriguez was handed a rare outing, suggesting Bale has fallen even further down Zidane’s pecking order.
The first half was open but without many clear-cut chances. The lively Vinicius Junior had the best opening early on after a pull-back from Fede Valverde but prodded wide.
Yet Vinicius was causing Andoni Gorosabel problems with his pace and it was the Brazilian who won the penalty, after nipping inside a defender before his right foot was caught by Diego Llorente.
Ramos made no mistake but seemed to take a bang on his left knee shortly after and despite limping on for several minutes, was eventually replaced by Eder Militao.
His removal coincided with a surge from Real Sociedad, who equalised when Januzaj drove into the corner only for Merino to be ruled offside, seen to be close enough to Courtois to be interfering with the goalkeeper’s line of sight.
Real Sociedad’s sense of frustration was compounded when Benzema made it two. Referee Javier Estrada again consulted VAR but this time allowed the goal to stand, believing Benzema to have controlled with his shoulder before firing in.
Merino set up a nervy finish with a thundering shot in off the crossbar but Madrid held on for an important win.