Pepe’s towering header was just enough to put Real Madrid three points behind league leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid after a gritty 1-0 victory against Espanyol.
The Portuguese’s goal came early in the second half from a set-piece delivery from Modric during the 55th minute. The goal, the defender’s third in the league, compliments his defensive duties throughout the game. Pepe was fearless in multiple aerial duels, he was smart in choosing his battles, and he, most importantly, kept a cool head.
Defensively, Real Madrid were impressive away against a tough Espanyol. This has not been the case with Ancelotti’s side away from home, but he will be proud of his center back’s performances tonight. Sergio Ramos and Pepe lead the defense with courage, as Carvajal and Marcelo operated the flanks with great effectiveness. Even Alonso checked in for defense during several set-pieces, one of which was a crucial clearance away from an attempted header from the Colombian striker, Jhon Cordoba.
However, it must be noted that Aguirre’s team (the Mexican coach was sidelined for today’s match) was a tough nut to crack. Cordoba was also lively and caused a handful of problems for Los Blancos’ back line. Additionally, ‘los periquitos’ were stubborn in the back; denying many of Real Madrid’s opportunities at goal. Former Real Madrid Castilla goalkeeper, Francisco Casilla, also made important blocks against his former club. As much as Espanyol did to fend off Los Blancos’ attacks, Ronaldo and co. did squander multiple opportunities in front of goal and that must change in the coming weeks.
The Ballon d’Or finalist will be disappointed to have not put his name on the scoresheet after multiple clear cut chances on goal. With a big day ahead of him on Monday, it would not have hurt to score a goal or two to leave behind any doubt of his dominant performances last year.
Yesterday’s clash between Tata’s and Simeone’s men was a great game of Spanish soccer with many chances for both sides and, more excitingly, a great physical battle. In the end, it was only to be a draw; the perfect result for Real Madrid. Although it was the perfect scenario for Los Blancos, it did put pressure on them to attain the three points today.
Looking forward, Ancelotti will be pleased with both his team’s mental strength and the final result as this puts Real Madrid only three points behind league leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Three consecutive wins for Real Madrid in the new year – two in La Liga and another in the Copa del Rey – will definitely amount to an influx of morale for the team. Ancelotti knows this. The Italian will have his hands full this next week: the second leg against Osasuna in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and a league meeting between Real Betis on Saturday.
At the moment however, Ronaldo, his teammates, and Ancelotti will only be looking forward to one thing at the moment – the Ballon d’Or ceremony. Many are expecting Ronaldo to claim it this year, due to his convincing performances put forth last year. However, Messi and Ribery both put forth convincing arguments as well the last year.
Will it be the Portuguese to reclaim a second Ballon d’Or? Or, will it be Messi once again? Or Ribery? Now, the world awaits for tomorrow’s anticipated ceremony.